Google Indonesia has announced the results of their annual Year in Search for this year. Year in Search 2018 offers unique information and perspectives on the moments and trends of the current year based on searches conducted in Indonesia. (Reuters Photo/Toby Melville)

Deep Losses Leave Big Tech With Small Earnings Multiples


DECEMBER 11, 2018

San Francisco. Deep losses in Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Alphabet have left the former tech favorites at their lowest earnings multiples in years, offering potential bargains to cold-blooded investors looking to buy stocks at a time of heightened fear.

Plummeting stock prices in recent months have mostly outpaced a simultaneous decline in earnings expectations, presenting potential opportunities to buy beaten down stocks. But apparent bargains could turn out to be expensive if earnings expectations take a turn for the worse next year as the United States continues its trade dispute with China.

Since Apple's November forecast for a weaker-than-expected holiday shopping quarter and other reports of sluggish demand for iPhones, analysts have cut estimates for the Cupertino, California-based company's December-quarter net income by almost $1 billion. Apple's stock last week traded at a nearly two-year low of 13 times expected earnings, even after accounting for analysts' reduced expectations.

Already, the so-called Fang group of Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google-parent Alphabet shares has seen its weight within the S&P 500 dwindle to 8 percent from as much as 10 percent in July, with investors fleeing what for years was Wall Street's most popular trade.

Since the US stock market abruptly dropped in early October, Apple has lost a quarter of its value, and last week it relinquished its title as Wall Street's most valuable company to Microsoft. Since then, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon have been battling to be No. 1.

Netflix has slumped 20 percent since early October, while Facebook and Amazon are both down over 10 percent. Alphabet, the least badly performing of the group, has lost 9 percent, a little worse than the S&P 500's 8 percent decline.

Investors in recent months have become increasingly worried that an ongoing US-China trade conflict may hobble US multinationals just as a year-long an surge in earnings growth caused by new corporate tax cuts is set to end.

Tech investors have also become more concerned about a global smartphone market that is losing steam, but the resulting drop in Apple's stock has outpaced analysts' reduced earnings expectations. Apple and other big tech names are trading at the lowest multiples of their prices to expected earnings in years, suggesting recent selling might be overdone.

"There are some attractive buying opportunities," said Jake Dollarhide, chief executive of Longbow Asset Management in Tulsa, Oklahoma. "We are buying Microsoft, and we could add some Apple and some Alphabet at these levels."

Facebook, plagued for months by criticism of its use of people's personal data and fears that it could face more regulation, recently traded at 19 times expected earnings, its lowest ever. That compares to a multiple of 45 times after Facebook went public in 2012.

Amazon's stock is now trading at 64 times expected earnings, it lowest multiple since 2012. Netflix's price/earnings multiple has dropped to 68, its lowest since 2015.

Newly enacted corporate tax cuts supercharged US earnings this year, but their effect on profit growth will end in the December quarter, leading analysts on average to predict S&P 500 earnings per share next year will rise 8 percent, compared to 24 percent in 2018, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

"The question going into 2019 is, 'Are you seeing enough of a pullback in those sectors that led that would entice investors to accept the lower valuations as an opportunity?'" said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial in Newark, New Jersey.