Don't Hate the Company With a P/E Ratio of 300

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- It bugs the living heck out of Apple (AAPL) diehards. How can AAPL trade at a P/E ratio of 16, while we're-not-sure-we'll-be-profitable-next-quarter Amazon.com (AMZN) commands a ratio of 300?

This goes against every single thing your granddad taught you about investing. For goodness sake, in a world this absurd, AAPL should cost, like, $13,000 per share.

At first blush, it is strangely peculiar. Using old-school applications of the P/E ratio, Wall Street undervalues the world's top-performing company by a mile, while overvaluing a company with razor-thin margins and an appetite for spending. That goes against everything that makes sense. Or does it?

In the spirit of Michelle Obama kicking Clint Eastwood's ass, please follow a political analogy to help explain this seemingly inane AMZN-P/E conundrum.

Even though he was killed before I was born, I am a big Robert F. Kennedy fan. Liberal politics died in America when Sirhan Sirhan gunned RFK down on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. Heck, we might not have had to endure Richard Nixon if RFK had become president.

In any event, many Obama-hating Republicans were big-time Kennedy Democrats in the 1960s. If you're around my age, 37, ask your parents who they voted for in 1960 and who they wanted to vote for in 1968. If you're around the age of my parents, 60 or 70, what say you? I bet you respond with a pair of brothers.

Losing JFK in 1963 hurt. The assassination of Malcolm X raised eyebrows in 1965. But the murders during a three-month span in 1968 of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy sapped any shred of political activism and awareness out of liberal Democrats.

Somewhere along the way these people -- folks like my parents -- became raging conservatives. The barren economy of much of the 1970s compounded the shock of the aforementioned deaths, quite possibly sending baby boomers into this downward political spiral. Conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and Rupert Murdoch came along and made it stick.

I don't buy the old adage that "a young conservative has no heart, and an old liberal has no brain." I subscribe to the theory Thomas Frank put forth in his 2004 book What's the Matter With Kansas?. These old Democrats act in opposition to what's good for their own and their country's economic interests when they vote along conservative and supposedly traditional lines.

In other words, they have been duped into forgetting the country they carry in their hearts and the political instinct and idealism that prompted them to support JFK and RFK back in the day.

A similar dynamic underscores AMZN-related bearishness. Just as baby boomers should reassess their current political choices against the liberalism they embraced in the 1960s, AMZN bears need to think back on the factors that identify a great American company.

Do you really dislike the way Amazon does business? Or have you turned your back on the corporate characteristics we supposedly long for as a society?

Here's a company that does the very things that drive the American economy, yet a whole host of detractors, ranging from AAPL bulls to valuation freaks, call Amazon a house of cards.

That's antithetical to what I always thought America was about.

Amazon does not sit on billions in cash. It does not stockpile its profits in some stagnant war chest. It sees no need to dole out a dividend. Instead, it plows every last penny back into its business.

It builds distribution center after distribution center in key cities in economically important states across the nation -- New Jersey, New York, California, Texas, Virginia. By reinvesting in its rapidly growing business, it reinvests in the United States of America.

Yet, for some reason, we cannot wrap our heads around its lofty valuation.

Investors comfortably give AMZN a 300 P/E ratio and continue to run the stock up because Amazon does all of these things. It spends money to make money, to grow and expand. From small businesses to mega corporations, it really doesn't get much more American than that. Yet, somewhere along the way we lost sight of this fact.

I'm not saying you have to vote Democrat or buy AMZN stock. Perfectly sane and logical reasons exist to pass on both.

However, I am saying this: Consider the things that bother you about the U.S.A.

Think of what irks you about American business -- jobs going overseas, companies not hiring here, companies hoarding cash, a lack of innovation, no risk-taking.

It might just be that the parties and companies you cast as villains are the ones that hold the key to recapturing the glory you long for in days gone by.

At the time of publication, the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this article.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

Rocco Pendola is a private investor with nearly 20 years experience in various forms of media, ranging from radio to print. His work has appeared in academic journals as well as dozens of online and offline publications. He uses his broad experience to help inform his coverage of the stock market, primarily in the technology, Internet and new media spaces. He has taken a long-term approach to investing, focusing on dividend-paying stocks, since he opened his first account as a teenager. Pendola, 37, is based in Santa Monica, Calif., where he lives with his wife and child.

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