February 27, 2017, 4:30pm EST                                                                                        Invest Alongside Billionaires For $297/Qtr

The big event of the week will be President Trump’s speech to Congress tomorrow.  We know the pro-growth agenda of the Trump administration.  We know the framework is in place to make it happen (with a Republican controlled Congress).  That alone has led to a “clear shift in the environment” as Ray Dalio has called it (head of the biggest hedge fund in the world) – I agree.

But we’re at a point now, with European elections approaching and political risk rising there, and with the reality setting in that execution on fiscal stimulus from Trumponomics won’t be coming quickly, markets are calming down a bit.  As we discussed last week, yields are falling back, following the lead of record level lows set in the German 2-year bund yield (in deeply negative territory).  That dislocation in the German government bond market, as other key market barometers have been pricing in bliss, has come as a warning signal.

Another event of interest: Warren Buffett’s annual letter was released over the weekend, and he was on CNBC for a long interview this morning.

First, I want to revisit his letter from last year:  Last year, in the face of an oil price crash, and a stock market that had opened the year with the worse decline on record, Buffett addressed the fears and uncertainty in markets.  He said the growth trajectory for America has been and will continue to be UP. “America’s economic magic remains alive and well.” 

And the growth trajectory has to do with two key factors: Improvements in productivity and innovation.

On productivity, he said: “America’s population is growing about .8% per year (.5% from births minus deaths and .3% from net migration). Thus 2% of overall growth produces about 1.2% of per capita growth. That may not sound impressive. But in a single generation of, say, 25 years, that rate of growth leads to a gain of 34.4% in real GDP per capita. (Compounding effects produce the excess over the percentage that would result by simply multiplying 25 x 1.2%.) In turn, that 34.4% gain will produce a staggering $19,000 increase in real GDP per capita for the next generation. Were that to be distributed equally, the gain would be $76,000 annually for a family of four. Today’s politicians need not shed tears for tomorrow’s children. All families in my upper middle–class neighborhood regularly enjoy a living standard better than that achieved by John D. Rockefeller Sr. at the time of my birth. Transportation, entertainment, communication or medical services.”

On innovation, he said: “A long–employed worker faces a different equation. When innovation and the market system interact to produce efficiencies, many workers may be rendered unnecessary, their talents obsolete. Some can find decent employment elsewhere; for others, that is not an option. When low–cost competition drove shoe production to Asia, our once–prosperous Dexter operation folded, putting 1,600 employees in a small Maine town out of work. Many were past the point in life at which they could learn another trade. We lost our entire investment, which we could afford, but many workers lost a livelihood they could not replace. The same scenario unfolded in slow–motion at our original New England textile operation, which struggled for 20 years before expiring. Many older workers at our New Bedford plant, as a poignant example, spoke Portuguese and knew little, if any, English. They had no Plan B. The answer in such disruptions is not the restraining or outlawing of actions that increase productivity. Americans would not be living nearly as well as we do if we had mandated that 11 million people should forever be employed in farming. The solution, rather, is a variety of safety nets aimed at providing a decent life for those who are willing to work but find their specific talents judged of small value because of market forces. (I personally favor a reformed and expanded Earned Income Tax Credit that would try to make sure America works for those willing to work.) The price of achieving ever–increasing prosperity for the great majority of Americans should not be penury for the unfortunate.”

And, finally on stocks, he said (my paraphrase): Overtime, with the above growth dynamic in mind, stocks go up. “In America, gains from winning investments have always far more than offset the losses from clunkers. (During the 20th Century, the Dow Jones Industrial Average — an index fund of sorts — soared from 66 to 11,497, with its component companies all the while paying ever–increasing dividends.”

What a difference a year makes.  This time, he releases his letter into a stock market that’s UP 6% on the year already.  And there’s new leadership and policy change underway.

So all of this in the above was written a year ago, what does he think now?
In his letter released over the weekend, Buffett AGAIN addresses the fears and uncertainties in markets

We discussed on Friday the stages of a bull market which slowly moves from the state of broad pessimism, to skepticism to optimism and finally to euphoria, which tends to end the bull market.  But as Paul Tudor Jones says (one of the great macro investors), the “last third of a great bull market is typically a blow-off, whereas the mania runs wild and prices go parabolic” (i.e. euphoria can last for a while).

The fact that Buffett is still addressing concerns about valuations and the future of the American economy, is more evidence that we’re far from euphoria (bubble-like territory that some like to often talk about) and were probably more like the area between skepticism to optimism.

About Valuation:  As we’ve discussed many times here my daily Pro Perspectives piece, when rates are low, historically, valuations run higher than normal (a P/E of 20 or better).  At a ten year yielding at 2.4% and fed funds at 75 basis points (well below the long run average) the forward P/E on the S&P is just 17.8x.  That’s still cheap, relative to the alternative of owning bonds.  That incentivizes money to continue to flow into stocks. And if we apply a 20 P/E earnings estimates for the next twelve months, we get about 12% higher on the S&P 500.

Now, let’s hear from the legend himself on the topic:  Buffett said this morning, “We’re not in bubble territory, if interest rates were 7% or 8% then these prices would look exceptionally high, but you measure everything against interest rates, measured against interest rates, stocks are on the cheap side compared to historic valuations.

By the way, on that “valuation note” for stocks, as you may recall I made the case early this month for why Apple (the largest component of the S&P 500) was cheap (Is Apple A Double From Here?).  What does Buffett think?  Buffett disclosed that he’s doubled his position in Apple since the beginning of the year. It’s now his second largest position at $17 billion.  He thinks Apple will be the first trillion dollar company.  Full disclosure:  We own Apple in our Billionaire’s Portfolio along with Buffett and his fellow billionaire investor David Einhorn.  We’re up 30% since adding it in March of last year.

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February 1, 2017, 4:00pm EST               Invest Alongside Billionaires For $297/Qtr

I talked yesterday about the Fed.  As I said, I think we’ll find that the Fed will shift gears again to stay behind the curve on inflation, to let the economy run a little hot.  They met today and it was a non-event. They said nothing to build momentum on their rate hike from December.

The news of the day has been Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) earnings.  People over the past couple of years have been calling for the decline in Apple.  They’ve said it’s topped.  They can’t innovate in the post-Steve Jobs era.  The iPhone was magic. But reproducing magic isn’t easy.  Once you put a computer in everyone’s pocket, there’s not much more they can do to it with it. These are all of the quips about Apple’s peak.  They may be right.  But Apple’s peak, at least as a stock, is greatly exaggerated.

They reported a huge positive surprise on earnings yesterday after the close.  The stock was up 6% on the day.  But even before that, I suspect it has become a much loved stock in the past two months in the “smart money” investor community.

We should see in the coming weeks, as big investors disclose their positioning for the end of Q4, Apple will have returned to a lot of portfolios again.  Warren Buffett, an investor that has made his fortune buying when others are selling, built a big stake at the lows of the year last year.  And it’s a perfect Buffett stock.

It’s incredibly cheap compared to the market.

The stock still trades at 15x earnings.  Much cheaper than the market.  Apple trades at 13x next year’s projected earnings.  The S&P 500 trades at 16.5x.  What about Apple’s monster cash position?  Apple has even more cash now — a record $246 billion. If we excluded the cash from the valuation, Apple market cap goes down from $675 billion to $429 billion.  That would equate to Apple trading at closer to 9x earnings. Though not an “apples to apples” that valuation would group Apple with the likes of these S&P 500 components that trade around 9 times earnings, like:  Dow Chemical, Prudential Financial, Bed Bath & Beyond, a Norwegian chemical company (LBY), and Hewlett Packard Enterprise. It’s safe to say no one is debating whether or not Hewlett Packard is at the pinnacle of its business. Yet, if we strip out the cash in Apple, AAPL shares are trading closer to an HPE valuation.

Add to that, Apple now has a fresh catalyst coming in, Trump policies. The new President Trump is incentivizing Apple (and others) to bring offshore cash hoards back home with a flat 10% tax.  And Apple makes money – a lot of it.  A cut in the corporate tax rate will be a boon for earnings.  Two years ago, Carl Icahn argued that Apple should use (a lot more of) their cash to buyback shares – and, with that, valued the stock at double its current levels.

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October 26, 2016, 4:15pm EST

As of the end of last week, 78% of the companies that have reported earnings for the most recent quarter have beaten estimates.

That’s on about a third of S&P 500 companies that have reported thus far. Remember, FactSet says on average (the five-year average), 67% of companies in the S&P 500 beat their analyst expectations. And they beat by an average of 4%.  So the numbers in this earnings season are running a little hotter, albeit on a lowered bar.

We’ve talked quite a bit in the past week about the run up to Apple earnings, which came in yesterday after the market close.  The earnings number beat expectations.  But it was by a slim margin.

The stock was lower on the day.  Still, on the second quarter report, this past July, Apple was a sub $100 stock (trading at just above $96).  Today it will close above $115.  That’s 20% higher in the span of one quarter, and it was on a report that was very much in line with the report we heard yesterday.  And the report included only a few weeks of the new iPhone7 release.  And it doesn’t reflect implosion of Apple’s competitor, Samsung.

As the media and analyst tend to do, especially when the macro news front is quiet and market volatility is quiet, they picked apart and speculated on the future of Apple today as a company that may have peaked.

Let’s just take a look at the stock, and not pretend to have better visibility on the future of the company than the people do inside — the same one’s that put a transformational supercomputer in our pockets.

The stock still trades at 13x earnings.  The S&P 500 trades at 16x.  Apple trades at 13x next year’s projected earnings.  The S&P 500 trades at 16.5x. Clearly it’s undervalued compared to the broader market.  What about Apple’s monster cash position?  Apple has even more cash now — a record $237 billion. If we excluded the cash from the valuation, Apple trades at 8.6x earnings. Though not an apples to apples (pun), and just as a reference point, that valuation would group Apple with the likes of these S&P 500 components that trade 8 times earnings:  Dow Chemical, Prudential Financial, Bed Bath & Beyond, a Norwegian chemical company (LBY), and Hewlett Packard Enterprise.  It’s safe to say no one is debating whether or not Hewlett Packard is at the pinnacle of its business. Yet, if we strip out the cash in Apple, AAPL shares are trading at an HPE valuation.

Apple still looks like a cheap stock.

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October 19, 2016, 3:00pm EST

By November 15th, the biggest investors in the world will be required to disclose a snapshot of what their portfolios looked like at the end of the third quarter.

I suspect we’ll find that Apple was heavily bought during the period.

You might recall, the media was stirring about the second quarter filings (which were reported back in August).  Some big names had sold or trimmed stakes in Apple.

But, as I discussed at that time, the Q2 portfolio snapshots came just days following the big surprising Brexit decision in the UK. Global markets swung violently on the news back in June.  Remember, between June 23rd and June 27th, the S&P 500 fell as much as 5.7%.  It made it all back the subsequent four days.

With that event in mind, billionaire investors David Einhorn, George Soros and Chase Coleman – all had sold Apple shares by the end of the second quarter.

But remember, unlike most stocks they own, they can all trade Apple with virtual anonymity between quarters.  The stock is too large for anyone one investor to take a 5% controlling stake, which would trigger the requirement of a 13D or 13G filing with the SEC, which would require updated filings (or amendments) within 10 days of any change in the position size (sell one share, you have to report it).

Einhorn even bragged in one of his investor letter’s this year that they have done a good job of “trading” Apple.

Make no mistake, even with the trimmed stakes of Q2, Apple was (and is) still the “who’s who” of billionaire investor-owned stocks.  It was still Einhorn’s largest position into the end of Q2.  Buffett swooped in and bought shares near the 52-week low.

When we see the Q3 filings next month, I would expect those that were cutting stakes at the end of Q2, were adding it all back in early Q3.  And with the run-up in Apple shares since, up 22% from the June lows, I predict it will be the most bought stock of the third quarter.  If that’s true, I predict the media and Wall Street will be talking about how great Apple is again (i.e. analyst upgrades will follow).

In the past month, there’s been a solid take up on the new iPhone 7 for Apple. Importantly, with the iPhone 7 launch, all four major carriers have returned to the model of offering free new iPhones for long term contracts. That’s a huge positive on the stock as a product-cycle driven company. Add to that, there’s no other stock that, if not owned and owned enough, can get a professional money manager fired than Apple.  That creates a “fear of missing out” trade in the institutional investor community — pushing them off of the sidelines and back into Apple.

But perhaps the most important event for Apple has been the very public implosion of their biggest competitor Samsung.  Samsung has been forced to recall their competitive smartphone the Galaxy Note 7 because it’s been bursting into flames.  It’s projected to cost the company over $5 billion. Most importantly, it’s positioning Apple, right in the sweetspot of their new product (latest phone) rollout, to take more market share.

If we do indeed find next month that the biggest and smartest investors in the world spent Q3 loading up on Apple, it should give a stamp of approval that sentiment has turned for the stock.  Apple remains one of the most undervalued stocks in the S&P 500, with the most powerful fundamentals: it’s cheap at 13x trailing and forward earnings, has an incredible balance sheet with $231 billion in cash, and a high analyst price target of $185 a share.

As I noted last week, the company reported a second consecutive quarter of year-over-year earnings decline in July. But it crushed estimates. The stock took off from $96 and trades today at $117. They report on the most recent quarter on October 25.  The consensus earnings estimate is $1.64–which would be a third consecutive year-over-year decline. The recent revisions to that estimate have been down (not surprisingly), which sets up for a beatThe last time Apple reported two consecutive quarters of year-over-year declines was mid-2013. The stock bottomed in that period.

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Today we want to talk about the quarterly SEC filings that came in over the past several days week.

All big investors that are managing over $100 million are required to publicly disclose their holdings every quarter. They have 45 days from the end of the quarter to file that disclosure with the SEC. It’s called a form13F.

While these filings have become very popular fodder for the media, what we care more about is 13D filings.  And of course we have our formula for narrowing down the universe to what we deem to be the best ideas.

For a refresher:  The 13D forms are disclosures these big investors have to make within 10 days of taking a controlling stake in a company. When you own 5% or more of a company’s stock, it’s considered a controlling stake. In a publicly traded company, with that sized position, you typically become the largest shareholder and, as we know, with that comes influence. Another key attribute of this 13D filing, for us, is that these investors also have to file amendments to the 13D within 10 days of making any change to their position.

By comparison, the 13F filings only offer value to the extent that there is some skilled analysis applied. Thousands of managers file 13Fs every quarter. And the difference in manager talent, strategies and portfolio sizes run the gamut.

With that caveat, there are nuggets to be found in 13Fs. Let’s talk about how to find them, and the take aways from the recent filings.

First, it’s important to understand that some of the positions in 13F filings can be as old as 135 days. Filings must be made 45 days after the previous quarter ends, which is 90 days. We only look at a tiny percentage of filings—just the investors that we know have long and proven track records, distinct approaches, and who have concentrated portfolios.

Through our research and nearly 40 years of combined experience, here’s what we’ve found to be most predictive:

  • Clustering in stocks and sectors by good hedge funds is bullish. Situations where good funds are doubling down on stocks are bullish. This all can provide good insight into the mindset of the biggest and best investors in the world, and can be a predictor of trends that have yet to materialize in the market’s eye.
  • For specialist investors (such as a technology focused hedge fund) we take note when they buy a new technology stock or double down on a technology stock. This is much more predictive than when a generalist investor, as an example, buys a technology stock.
  • The bigger the position relative to the size of their portfolio, the better. Concentrated positions show conviction. Conviction tends to result in a higher probability of success. Again, in most cases, we will see these first in the 13D filings.
  • New positions that are of large, but under 5%, are worthy of putting on the watch list. These positions can be an indicator that the investor is building a position that will soon be a “controlling stake.”
  • Trimming of positions is generally not predictive unless a hedge fund or billionaire cuts a position by 75% or more, or cuts below 5% (which we will see first in 13D filings). Funds also tend to trim losers into the fourth quarter for tax loss benefits, and then they buy them back early the following year.

With that in mind, we want to talk about a few things we did glean from these recent filings.

Apple (AAPL)

This biggest news out of the filings this week was that Warren Buffett initiated a new $1 billion plus stake in Apple.  Buffett loves to invest in out-of-favor companies that are depressed in price, with strong brand names, low P/Es and high return on capital.  Apple checks the boxes on all of the above.

We think Buffett’s stamp of approval will change the sentiment on Apple, which has had a short-term ebb.  Apple shares were up 4% on the news Buffett has entered, the biggest one day move in over two months.

Additionally, billionaire David Einhorn added to his Apple position last quarter. He now has more than 15% of his $5.9 billion hedge fund in Apple.


We’ve talked a lot about oil over the past several months. The oil price bust created a binary trade — either it destroyed the global economic recovery (and likely the global economy) or it bounced back aggressively.  Thankfully, it’s done the latter.  Billionaire oil trader, Boone Pickens said this week that he thinks oil could trade as high as $60 over the next two months.

In the filings from Q1, top billionaires just like in Q4 were initiating and adding new stakes in energy stocks – building some large, high conviction positions.

As we’ve said, we think oil-energy stocks are the macro trade of the year.


One of most popular growth stocks purchased by top billionaire investors last quarter was Facebook. Another notable tech stock in the cross hairs of influential investors:  Yahoo.  A couple of top activist investors, a hot macro investor are involved in Yahoo. And news this week that Warren Buffet and billionaire Dan Gilbert could be teaming up to buy parts of Yahoo.

Billionaires Bottom Fishing in Healthcare

Noted contrarian and billionaire John Paulson has doubled down on two beaten down healthcare stocks last quarter, Endo International and Akorn Inc. We think this is an interesting move because Paulson like many of the best billionaire investors have literally made billions from buying when everyone else is selling.

Many other top hedge funds remain heavily invested in healthcare stocks as well, even after their most recent selloff.

Now, a couple of bigger picture views from the filings…

Some of the biggest and best are bullish on stocks.  Billionaire David Tepper has 12% of his fund invested in call options on the S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100.  Billionaire global macro trading legend, Louis Bacon, now has more than 7% of his fund in Nasdaq call options.  And two other macro investing studs, Paul Tudor Jones and John Burbank have both built big call options on emerging market stocks.

This activity gels nicely with what we’ve been discussing here in our daily notes.  We have a global economic environment that is fueled by central bank support. The risk of the oil price bust has now been removed.  And a lot of the economic data is setting up nicely for big positive surprises over the coming months.  We think we are in the early stages of seeing a global sentiment shift, away from gloom, and toward optimism.  And positive data surprises and changes in sentiment are two very powerful factors in driving markets.

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