Apple, Builders to Have Opposite Impacts in Second Half

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Unstoppable Apple (AAPL) continues to move higher, once again holding firm above the closely watched $600 psychological price. What truly sets Apple apart from the overall market as measured by the S&P 500 Spyder ETF (SPY) is the strong sales in Asia.

Despite the overall market moving lower, or at best flat into the election and likely 2013, I expect Apple to move to new all-time highs. Apple is such a large part of Nasdaq's PowerShares QQQ Trust Series ( QQQ), that a decoupling, at least in part for a few months, is a real possibility.

Why does Apple get a pass on the next six months? Apple doesn't get a pass for North America any more than anyone else. Apple has the advantage of a highly desirable brand that is increasing sales in Asia, and is already trading at a massive discount relative to its earnings growth and financial position.

It's the Asian sales that will continue to pump earnings into Apple, driving the stock higher. For another look at Apple, Real Money's Tim Melvin wrote an article that includes it: Be an Owner Instead of a Trader. (You will need a Real Money subscription, or take a look at the free trial offer so you can read it.)

If you're not already long Apple, it's not too late. Simply wait for a pullback of three of more down days and enter. Another method for longer-term holders is to sell at-the-money or in-the-money put options. You can capture some upside with a lower risk than buying the stock outright.

The pressing issue for the stock market in general, as represented by SPY and QQQ, is the looming rise in capital gains tax. Selling out-of-the-money cover calls for both SPY and QQQ makes sense to profit from a sideways to downward market. For those wanting to avoid 2013 taxes (more on that later) and not wanting to liquidate positions in 2012, selling in-the-money cover calls with December expiration makes sense.

If the market moves lower, the covered calls help mitigate losses, if the market moves higher, you get exercised before the end of the year. Upon exercise, simply buy the SPY and or QQQ again. You will pay the 2012 level taxes (or if the tax rates change as a result of elections, political will, etc., you have time to adjust) and have a higher cost basis for your sale in 2013 or beyond.

The looming rise in capital gains tax is also a pressing issue for the housing market. Look for homebuilders to stall out in the second half of 2012, but the weakness will become a buying opportunity if builders improve in 2013.

Home builders Pulte Homes ( PHM), KB Home ( KBH), Lennar ( LEN), Horton ( DHI) and Toll Brothers ( TOL) all face headwinds from the upcoming tax increase.

The housing market, which has made progress in many areas of the country, is faced with one of the largest tax increases in history. In 2013, earners making over $200,000 ($250,000 married) will get socked with a new 3.8% health care (Medicare) surcharge tax on capital gains, and a higher capital gains rate from 15% to 20%.

For those selling a home with enough capital gains to push their income above $200,000 ($250,000 married), the difference in tax is 8.8%. Obviously, many sellers will want to sell in 2012 instead of 2013. Dropping the price by 5% will make perfect financial sense to anyone with a chance to sell before 2013 as opposed to holding out for what otherwise would be their selling price.

The motivation to sell will create a domino effect with sellers lowering their prices in competition with each other until the difference in taxes is negated. For home builders, the increase in tax means trying to compete with increased inventory and motivated sellers for the rest of 2012.

Sadly, many people who have never made $200K in a year before think they will not get caught in the new "rich man's tax," but will find out that the sale of their home triggers the tax. After the $200,000 exclusion ($500,000 for married), many will find they will have to pay the tax in 2013.

For example, assume that a home is bought for $200K about 20 years ago and is now worth about $970K. The same couple also never earned more than $110K in a year, so they give the surcharge tax little thought or worry. They are retired and have taxable income of $60K per year from investments.

They sell their home and receive net $950K. They subtract their cost basis of $240K (after improvements) and $500K exclusion, and they end up with a gain of $210K. So far so good, right? Wrong, you add in the taxable income of $60K and our lovely couple is now for the first time over $250K, and it triggers the penalty tax on all their income that year.

That's 8.8% more in taxes because they waited until 2013 instead of 2012. Over $23K in additional taxes, and much less money to enjoy in their retirement, if they wait. Clearly anyone in this situation is reviewing 2012 as the year to exit investments compared to 2013. Home builders, along with the rest of the market, will face headwinds until 2013.

Along with housing, jobs and health care will also be major issues in 2013. The United States has more than 100,000 small businesses with a staff size between 40-60 people. Many of these firms offer health insurance, but not "good enough" health insurance to avoid added costs from federal penalties.

Owners and shareholders who face extremely large annual penalties will have to question if it makes financial sense expanding the company. Obviously many will choose to wait and see, which in turn results in less remodeling work, building, training and all the other investments driven by expansion.

Of course, the workers who are not hired because of uncertainty and or known costs have less income and in turn spend less. Some will begin or continue to collect public assistance, some will commit crime, but all as a whole, will add less to the economy. They are casualties of war, the war on the free market by those who believe central planning works better for society. For more on this, read my article, Obamacare Will Crush Small Businesses.

Some companies will either add or improve their health insurance offering. I estimate most companies on the fringe will go this route. What so many who approve of government mandates miss, is that health insurance costs can not be paid for with premiums grown from magical trees. All health care costs have been and will always be paid by workers.

Instead of workers and employers deciding what is best in their given situation, the government has removed their say in the process and replaced it with regulations.

If any given employee is worth $32,000 a year to a company, it is reasonable to assume $30,000 is the salary offered. The employee doesn't actually see all of the salary, though. Some is hidden, and some is invested, and some is used to pay for government-mandated items the employee is required to buy.

The employer is required to take out of the employees pay FICA at 13%, retirement contribution at 5%, unemployment insurance 3%, health insurance 8%, and other costs of 5% (admin, training, etc.). The net result is the employee receives a paycheck (before federal and state taxes are removed) of about $19,800. (Kind of makes you sick how much is taken out, but it's about to get worse.)

If an employer is faced with having to spend another $170 per employee for health insurance, it no longer makes financial sense continuing to employ this person. Instead of firing the person, a reduction of $2,000 in pay (plus the lowered FICA etc.) down to $17,800 will maintain the relationship.

Who ends up paying for the health insurance mandate on the business? The employees, of course, because the value they bring to the employer hasn't changed, only the government regulations on what the employees' income must be spent on has.

Lower disposable income translates into lower economic activity outside the health care space. The current impact is small, but will grow as the date of implementation draws nearer.

As the vicious cycle of jobs, housing, taxes and health care swirl, Apple will likely remain a beacon of hope.

At the time of publication, Weinstein held no positions in stocks mentioned.

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