NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Jim Cramer fills his blog on RealMoney every day with his up-to-the-minute reactions to what's happening in the market and his legendary ahead-of-the-crowd ideas. This week he blogged on:
- why some investors are skeptical about this bull market, and
- how some companies have mastered the buyback.
Click here for information on RealMoney, where you can see all the blogs, including Jim Cramer's -- and reader comments -- in real time.
Masters of the Stock Buyback
Posted at 12:21 p.m. EST on Wednesday, March 5, 2014
There are buybacks and then there are buybacks. We have seen a host of companies announce share buybacks and they can sound gigantic, sound all-important, sound market-moving, and instead they just turn out to be duds. You just need to know what kind of buyback you are dealing with and how it is being executed.
The market's filled with buybacks that sound big, but look like they have been a gigantic waste of shareholders' money. Exxon Mobil (XOM), for example, a huge disappointment today, has been buying back stock consistently. Yet it has meant very little to the stock because, like it or not, it is being done in a very desultory way. We don't want buybacks from oil companies anyway. We want growth, as you can see with the relative comparisons between Exxon with its gigantic buyback, and Continental Resources (CLR) and EOG (EOG) with their collective explosive growth.
Just consider that, a year ago, Exxon stock was at $86. Now it is at $93. During that same period the stock of Continental Resources, Harold Hamm's company, has traveled from $87 to $122. EOG, the best big-cap grower in the industry, has run from $108 to $191. So much for the buyback. Exxon should be spending more money buying needle-moving properties and less money on its own stock. Continental and EOG keep plowing back money into their properties, and that's obviously been a market-rewarding choice.
Or consider the so-called monster buyback that Cisco's (CSCO) got going. If you look over the last four years, you'll see Cisco has bought back almost 10% of its float. During that same period, Cisco's stock has gone from $24 to $21.
You don't need me to tell you how disappointing that is.
That's why it's not just enough to buy back stock. You have to buy back stock with meaning and with aggressive steps, literally following the stock up as you do.
Take AutoZone (AZO), which just reported earnings yesterday. AutoZone has been by far the most aggressive and opportunistic buyer of stock of all the major companies I follow. During pretty much the same period that I used for measuring Cisco, AutoZone has shrunk its float from 49 million shares to 34 million shares. How has the stock done? How about go from $168 to $543? I am telling you, in no uncertain terms, that this buyback is what has made AutoZone's stock into one of the great performers of the era.
People don't believe it. As I mentioned in my Game Plan on Friday's Mad Money, this stock almost always seems to get hit when the company reports as someone gets bent out of joint about the quarter. Then we hear from management that the buyback is going to be consistent -- there's $727 million worth remaining in this $18 billion company's repurchase plan -- and the stock flies right back up and then some.
Who else knows how to buy back stock and have market-moving impact by sopping up supply on the down days and being right underneath the bid on the up ones? Look no further than the media companies -- Disney (DIS), Time Warner (TWX), CBS (CBS) and Viacom (VIA.B) -- all of which seem to have real game when it comes to repurchasing their own shares.
I emphasize broader themes as places to go when the market's weak. To this, let's add the list of companies that buy back their stock amazingly well and are impactful -- and, when it comes to shareholder-friendly repurchase plans, AutoZone is Exhibit A.
Taking the Skeptics Head-On
Posted at 3:18 p.m. EST on Wednesday, March 5, 2014
The froth police are out today big-time, telling us about how this market totally feels like 1998 going to 2000 -- I understand that on a day where the market is able to consolidate yesterday's gains, at least so far.
People are reminding me that when we have these kinds of gains, it's reminiscent of that parabolic move (that's what they call it) going into the Nasdaq
There's no denying, of course, that there's a ton of froth. We have a wave of biotech companies that have come public and soared. Biotech's often linked with bubbly markets that have tended to get crushed down the road, and the more IPOs there are, the worse it is.
We have this extraordinary move in Tesla (TSLA), the car company, that's now being hailed as a savior to the entire trillion-dollar electric grid. CEO Elon Musk is being considered the next Einstein-meets-Henry Ford, even as his company continues to lose money. We keep hearing that Netflix (NFLX) might have trouble continuing to grow as it has, yet the stock has gone to $452 from $99 in the past year. Amazon (AMZN) has gone to $370 from $270 in the past year without making a profit. These stocks, as well as some of the Software-as-a-Service companies like Salesforce.com (CRM), Workday (WDAY), Concur Technologies (CNQR) and Medidata Solutions (MDSO), are wildly overvalued on earnings.
Plus, the speed of the move is breathtaking. As Doug Kass pointed out on Tuesday, the last time the Russell 2000 index rose by 3% to a new high, as it did yesterday, was March 1, 2000, right near the market top. It did feel blow-off-like in its power -- a really weak sign for the market.
Oh, and of course, I hear that if the Fed changed its mind and started taking up the short rates, it would be devastating for the market.
Things are so bad that many smart people, about a dozen of them in the last few days, have told me that I have to be careful talking about the stocks I like -- Chipotle (CMG), Regeneron (REGN), Yelp (YELP), Google (GOOG) and Facebook (FB), for instance -- because I'm really going to hurt a lot of people in "the end" (with quotes duly noted around "the end"). I hear over and over again from the professionals that I am reckless talking about the momentum monsters that rule the day, and I will rue the day when it all unravels.
"Why don't you have the guts to tell the truth, Jim?" is a common refrain. Let me deal head-on with these jeremiads.
First, am I willing to tell the truth? Actually, yes, and in a way that is so jarring as to put my credibility on the line.
Fourteen years ago I was bullish, even on the Nasdaq, for pretty much the whole run. I had a huge year in 1999 at my old hedge fund and was very proud. I came into 2000 long a lot of the highest fliers, I called them the "Red Hots" back then, and I stayed pedal-to-the metal pretty much the whole time, even hanging out for those last 1,000 Nasdaq composite points, including a speech I gave near the end of February recommending a ton of the frothiest stocks.
But beginning in March we began to see a lot of intraday reversals and gigantic insider selling. During those days, the only place to catch me opining was in Real Money, and in the middle of the month I did what at the time was both extraordinary and wildly reviled. I said I was selling all the stocks that had just vaulted incredibly high, taking the money and going into bonds and old-fashioned Standard & Poor's
No matter. I was pilloried for switching directions -- despised even as those who didn't get the sell call still hate me to this day for talking about what had been amazing stocks, not amazing companies.
But I got it right.
One wag today said I am afraid to yell fire in a crowded theater, but before the market took its huge plunge in 2008-2009 I did yell fire, right on the Today show of all places. It was a fabulous call but, again, I was trashed by both the bulls for getting out and by the skeptics who said that I was the poster boy for keeping people in bad stocks.
No matter. I had the guts to make the call and even though it did nothing but cause me grief, I was right. And when I thought the market had stopped declining, I took my cue from Doug Kass, who had been very bearish but turned bullish that we could be at a generational bottom, and said you needed to buy. I followed up with a whole book, Getting Back to Even, where I recommended people return to the market after sidestepping the big decline that I told them to avoid.
I mention this not to tell you how right I was but because if I really thought we were going down big, I would shout it from the rooftops because I sure am not afraid to call a top.
Here's the problem: I think that some stocks are frothy, but I don't see a peak here. I think that you need to take profits in the most wildly parabolic winners, but I am not telling you to sell or short them. Plus, in many cases, like Google or Facebook, these companies are earnings gobs of money -- yes, real earnings -- and they aren't even expensive on the outyears. In fact, they are cheap, which is why my charitable trust owns them. Even Qualcomm (QCOM), the stock that was supposed to go to $1,000 per share, a call made at almost the absolute peak, is hitting highs again, yet this time it's cheap and moving up because of a huge cash hoard, a gigantic buyback and a bountiful and increasing dividend.
Plus, there are so many historically cheap areas in this market, from banks to retail to plain-Jane technology, and stocks so cheap that activists are picking on the latter two to bring out value, and they are doing so.
But the major reason I can't be as negative is the vast majority of professionals I talk to and hear from are indeed skeptical, short or in denial of the power of this bull market. The same people who are telling me to warn owners of Tesla, Netflix, Facebook or Twitter (TWTR) are the ones who desperately want me to tell people to flee from these stocks at dramatically lower levels.
So who is arrogant and complacent? I think these people are. They are arrogant because they refuse to admit they have been wrong, and they are complacent because they have not and do not seem to care how much they have cost people with their dead-wrong negativity that knows that they will be right "one day."
Unlike 2000 and 2007, when very few people were telling you it was the end of the world, the end-of-worlders represent a majority of people I hear, read about and talk to. I wish I could be as glibly negative and as giddily pessimistic, but here's the bottom line: I frankly don't see or smell fire, and the theater isn't even very crowded. If it fills up and smells acrid, I will scream fire. Right now, I will just listen to all those who have kept you out of a terrific, prosperous play and are determined to continue doing so no matter how strong and how positive this bull market continues to be.
Random Musings: More to come from Eric Oberg shortly on Bitcoin that answers the questions triggered by Tuesday's brilliant analysis.
At the time of publication, Action Alerts PLUS, which Cramer co-manages as a charitable trust, was long FB and GOOG.