Taking a Bigger Bite Out of the Apple

by Jason Norris, CFAExecutive Vice President of Research

Apple reported earnings earlier this week. Due to recent strength in the stock, investors took profits. Specifically, sales grew 27 percent year-over-year, driven by 55 percent growth in iPhone revenues. This resulted in profit growth of 40 percent. These growth rates are very rare for companies with annual revenues over $200 billion and a market capitalizations (the share price multiplied by total number of shares outstanding) in excess of $700 billion. Therefore, sustainability does frequently come up.

On a similar note, with Apple’s market capitalization of $725 billion, it is now considered the highest valued company in the world. With that value, it is now 4 percent of the S&P 500, the most common equity benchmark. When active investors attempt to beat their benchmark, knowing some of the major constituents is critical for investment managers. In the case of Apple, if an investor believes that Apple is going to perform better than the S&P 500, they now have to allocate more than 4 percent of their portfolio to that stock. If they do not and Apple were to perform better than the S&P 500, investment managers will not keep up.

From a diversification standpoint, most investment managers are hesitant to hold positions greater than 4 percent, thus would now be underweight Apple. Since Apple is a very large component of the large-cap equity benchmarks, we recently reviewed the 10 largest actively managed core and growth mutual funds. For core managers trying to beat the S&P 500 when Apple is a 4 percent position, eight of 10 are underweight, and the other two are equal. When looking at growth managers when Apple is 7 percent of the benchmark (i.e., Russell 1000 Growth), nine managers are underweight and only one is equal. This data revealed that Apple is extremely underowned among the world’s largest mutual funds. If those funds were to move to an equal weight position relative to the benchmark, we would see over $29 billion worth of buying, which is roughly 235 million shares. Since we have a positive view on Apple, we believe this data is also positive.

Just like clockwork, this time of year the financial press will be prognosticating about the old adage, “sell in May and go away.” This comes to the forefront since equity markets often experience lackluster performance in the spring and summer months. However, it does not necessarily mean that investors lose money. Since 1978, from May to September, stocks median return was 3 percent, lagging the performance of equities from September to May. This has resulted in a median performance of 11 percent. We believe this doesn’t signal “a sell” since there are still positive returns to be had, just more potential volatility. The negative returns captured in the chart below are the result of two poor months, July and September.


Source: FactSet

Our Takeaways from the Week

o   Apple continues to be an "underowned" stock which may provide outside buying power adding support to the name

o   While summer is often a results in lackluster equity period for performance, we don’t think investors should trade based on the calendar