Richard Band is one of the pioneers of the investment newsletter industry, his Profitable Investing letter has been around for more than 30 years, but we don’t cover his teaser picks very often — probably partly because the letter doesn’t get aggressively promoted very often by his publishers.
But they’ve sensed and opportunity this week, it seems — with so much coverage of Amazon (AMZN) as the stock price finally touched $1,000 a share yesterday (albeit briefly), Investorplace is out with a pitch for Band’s Profitable Investing that’s headlined “How to Buy Amazon for $105.”
Who wouldn’t want that, right?
Oh, to have a time machine.
So what is it that they’re actually teasing? Here’s a taste:
“Window of Opportunity Closes at Midnight
“How to Buy Amazon for $105 and Bank a Rich 3% Dividend Along the Way
“You Have 24 Hours”
Well, I’m afraid the window of opportunity may have closed, but I’m also not at all sure what he means by a “Window of Opportunity” or why on earth we’d have just 24 hours.
Unless, of course, he’s just pushing us to subscribe quickly. Nah, that wouldn’t happen… right?
Well, I’m afraid so — one absolutely critical part of any newsletter ad is the “subscribe now” rationale — a copywriter has to have some reason to rush you along to the bit where you type in your credit card number, otherwise the risk is that you’ll take your time, think it over, maybe go talk to your wife or husband about it, or visit your friends over at Stock Gumshoe to see what they think… and as each minute passes, the probability of getting those coveted credit card numbers out of you drops just a bit lower.
Here’s the part that says “hurry” but doesn’t really give a reason for the rush, other than the fact that the company will release second quarter earnings at some point:
“Back Up the Truck Now
“Once word gets out that this company is set to rise along with Amazon’s explosive growth, you’re going to see its shares begin to zoom.
“That’s why I’m telling my readers, and now you too, to back up the truck before the company declares 2nd quarter earnings.
“If you do, you’ll be smiling all the way to the bank over the next five years as its sales and profits rise alongside Amazon’s.
“Long term, a $5,000 investment here could mushroom into $20,000 or more —— all while paying you 3% a year to grow your wealth!”
If this company is on a standard quarterly schedule, which most of them are, then their second quarter won’t even be completed for another month, and the earnings report would presumably be at least a month after that.
So take a deep breath, relax, and let’s see what stock he’s talking about. Then you can decide for yourself whether you want to hurry, or even whether you want to subscribe to his newsletter.
Some of you will have guessed this one already, I’m sure, but don’t spoil it for the rest of the class… what are our clues, beyond that $105 share price and the 3% dividend?
“… this Amazon supply chain partner will let you buy into the next phase of the company’s historic rise for just $105 a share….
“… this supply logistics company touches, directs, and routes 30% of the packages Amazon sends out….
“The result has helped this company net over $3.4 billion a year while paying investors a rich 3% dividend….
“… the company’s supply chain logistics operation doesn’t just partner with Amazon—it partners with virtually every major online retailer as well, from Apple to Wal-Mart to Staples and beyond.”
OK, now there are a LOT of hands up out there in the class… most of you have an answer. Shall we throw another clue or two on the pile so the rest can catch up? Here goes…
“State Street, BlackRock, and FMR LLC, own, together, $35 billion worth of stock….
“In the past 30 days, 15 top analysts have revised their expectations upward for both 2017 and 2018.
“It’s no wonder.
“The company just reported another positive earnings surprise as well as four consecutive quarters of growth.”
So, as you’ve probably gathered by now, this is good ol’ United Parcel Service (UPS). UPS is a huge global shipping company that has been expanding overseas for decades but is best known for its brown trucks that represent the powerful parcel delivery network in the US.
And it’s no surprise that UPS and their biggest competitor, FedEx (FDX), are beneficiaries of the ecommerce revolution — which has actually hurt margins at some times. Both companies have needed to invest in expansion to handle greater package volume, and they’re also facing some margin squeeze because of the increasing dominance of a few brands, particularly Amazon, in ecommerce — Amazon needs UPS and FedEx, but it also has a lot of leverage to play those companies off each other, and to take on some of its own logistics and delivery work.
Those weaker margins helped to bring the stock down after the last earnings report, so the shares are considerably off their highs right now (they were near $120 before their earnings disappointment at the end of January and have mostly been in the $104-107 since, the late April earnings report didn’t really cause investors to change their minds about the stock). And I guess they did technically report “another” earnings surprise last quarter, they beat expectations by about 2% in the March quarterly report… but the previous beat would have been a year or more ago, the earnings fell short of expectations in the December quarter and analysts have generally been quite close to the target in the few quarters before that (no surprise there, the company gives pretty clear earnings guidance and the analysts pretty reliably line up right at the midpoint of that guidance).
The company is saying all the right things about the investments in strengthening their network paying off in the future, and about some leverage returning to the shares over the next year or so as those investments help to improve margins, which has led analyst estimates to increase their expectations for the stock a bit over the past few months… thought he increases have not been particularly dramatic. The current expectation is that UPS will earn $5.95 per share this year, which would only be 3.5% growth over last year’s $5.75, but then analysts think they’ll post $6.44 in earnings in 2018 (for a more respectable 8% earnings growth).
That’s still not particularly dramatic or overwhelming, I’m afraid — not for a stock with a forward PE of 16. That gives you a PEG ratio (price/earnings/growth) of over 2, and that usually means you’re paying a pretty rich price relative to the growth you’re going to get.
Which probably shouldn’t be all that surprising — UPS is a high yielding brand-name stock, with a 3% dividend and a pretty strong record of dividend growth (they’ve raised the dividend every year since their 1999 IPO, other than 2009 when they kept it flat), and most such stocks are pretty expensive right now. So really, the calculus for most investors is probably whether or not you think UPS’s unique asset, their global logistics and delivery network, is worth a premium price… and whether you think the relatively steady performance of the past 15 years is worth paying for.
UPS shares have beaten the market handily since the 2008 crash, and over the past five years, but over the longer term they’ve failed to consistently be any better than the market since their IPO. This year, with the market dominated by those few mega tech stocks at the top and UPS reporting a weak fourth quarter to end 2016, the stock has lagged pretty far behind the benchmark.
The “hurry hurry hurry” fervor doesn’t really ring true for UPS or similar kinds of stocks, frankly — and you’d probably be much happier with a fairly conservative pundit like Richard Band if you went in with much lower expectations, but that doesn’t mean it’s a lousy stock. To give you some perspective, Richard Band also touted Nestle (NSRGY) back in the Fall of 2011 as the “safest stock in the world” and “poised for a 30% pop” because “Wal-Mart goes out of business without this company” … and Nestle was and is a fine dividend-paying “blue chip” investment to consider, but it took a year and a half for that 30% “pop” to gradually materialize, and it happened right in line with the performance of the overall market.
Band also re-teased Nestle a while later, in 2014, still with that “Wal-Mart goes out of business without this company” line, and Nestle has continued to gradually grow, but it has fallen pretty far short of the performance of the overall market. Even if you include the decent dividend (he also included a second food stock that time, Pinnacle Foods (PF), and that one did far better and did beat the S&P 500 by a wide margin, but was also a substantially smaller and arguably riskier company).
So, again, take your deep breath, think about UPS if you’re interested, and feel free to invest in it or not as your druthers drive you… but it’s not, of course, going to provide anything like the 40,000% return Amazon investors enjoyed over the past 20 years, and those $105 UPS shares are awfully unlikely to reach $1,000 in our lifetimes. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad stock, I’m quite sure that UPS shares have a lower probability of falling 40% than AMZN shares do, but you’ll probably be much happier if you start your research with some more mundane expectations.
UPS will very likely fall if the market falls, and shipping is generally a cyclical business so economic activity dropping would be bad for them, but the 3% dividend should give at least some floor to the shares unless the business hits some dramatically larger challenge — though one challenge is that if improving earnings don’t materialize this year, the payout ratio is getting a little tight if you look at GAAP earnings. GAAP earnings for the 2016 came in at $3.87 versus the adjusted EPS of $5.75, and the dividend payment for that year was $3.12, so that’s getting a little bit uncomfortable. That’s mostly because of pension accounting, since UPS has a huge pension plan for its employees — on an adjusted basis, if you don’t assume any pension mark-to-market adjustments, they’re in much better shape with adjusted earnings expectations at $5.95 for 2017 (and that includes 30 cents a share in “headwinds” from currency adjustments, which have also been a drag on UPS earnings in recent years because of the strong US dollar). So probably not a critical thing to watch, but for those who aren’t used to following “old” companies with big pension obligations, it’s worth noting that their pension adjustments do have a big impact on earnings and will come up as key factors in the conference calls.
I’d suggest starting with at least the last two earnings call transcripts, 2016’s Q4 is here and the April 2017 Q1 call is here, because that should give you a handle on the capital investment, margin, and growth issues that have brought the shares down a little bit this year.
Have a thought on UPS to share? Amazon? Anyone else you favor in that logistics business? Let us know with a comment below. And if you’ve ever subscribed to Band’s Profitable Investing, please click here to review it for your fellow investors. Thanks for reading!
P.S. Even if you take the “buy before Q2 earnings” alert from Band at all seriously, you still have plenty of time — that report will come out in late July.
Disclosure: I own shares of Amazon (AMZN), and of Apple (AAPL), both mentioned above. I am not invested in any of the other stocks mentioned in this article, and will not trade in any covered stock for at least three days after publication per Stock Gumshoe’s trading rules.