Sometimes you just have to rely on your gut instinct when it comes to taking a short position. Combining that with a few barometers such as: forward multiples north of the century mark, extreme bullish sentiment, and a slew of insider selling, makes the bet even more palatable. Throw in a "price to book ratio" in excess of 10, and you have the perfect recipe for a mouthwatering shorting opportunity. The following two momentum stocks all share the above characteristics and should be considered as prime shorting candidates.
LinkedIn (LNKD): This company is really just a job board when you really get down to it. How high could its moat be when Google (GOOG) or Facebook (FB) could easily replicate its model? The company's market cap, in excess of $21 billion, gives the impression that Wall Street thinks it could be on the verge of discovering a cure for cancer, or a pill that allows you to eat anything you want without gaining weight.
Is this bubble being maintained by a "pump and dump" conspiracy on Wall Street to allow the smart money to exit their positions at the expense of the retail investor? Jim Cramer recently gave LNKD his seal of approval, but could that endorsement actually be an ominous sign? Remember, Mr. Cramer is not always right - he gave Bear Sterns a "thumbs up" just before it collapsed. Believe or not, LNKD is selling at nearly 90 times 2014 earnings estimates of $2.11, and that's implying its earnings will increase a daunting 45%, from its 2013 earnings forecast of $1.46 per share.
Insiders are selling like there is no tomorrow and have dumped 2.7 million shares in the last six months alone, representing a staggering 69% of their shares. The balance sheet does not support the stock price either, as the company holds a paltry $600 million in cash (amounting to just 4% of its market cap) and sells for an astronomical 16 times book value.
LNKD versus Facebook: if you compare a very similar company to LNKD, such as Facebook, the folly of its bubble valuation is even more magnified. Here's the kicker: even though FB is expected to earn eight times more than LNKD in 2014 ($1.9 billion versus $232 million), its market cap of $59 billion is only 2.8 times greater than LNKD's market cap. You would think that if all else is equal, a company producing eight times the earnings should be worth eight times as much. Why such a disparity here? It can't be that their respective growth rates vary too much, as LNKD narrowly beats out FB in this department (45% versus 37%). The bottom line here: either FB is way undervalued, LNKD is overvalued, or a little of both.
Amazon (AMZN): There is no doubt CEO Jeff Bezos continues to pull the proverbial rabbit out of the hat, enabling him to confuse, manipulate and amaze a very naive and gullible cross section of investors. If things are as good as everyone proclaims, then why are AMZN insiders running for the exits at a feverish pace (they've sold $80 million in the past six months), and why did the company feel compelled to finally go into debt, by borrowing $3 billion?
According to most pundits on Wall Street, earnings are expected to rebound in a big way. In fact, analysts are forecasting AMZN to produce earnings of $1.30 (a P/E of 219) on revenues of $75 billion in 2013. The following year, earnings are slated to nearly triple to $3.70 (a P/E of 77) on a 21% sales gain. The million-dollar question is, how much of this anticipated earnings improvement has already been reflected into the current share price? It is quite conceivable this good news, and then some, has already been priced in. These expectations seem lofty, considering AMZN is losing its sales tax advantage, and buying expensive streaming content, in its war with Netflix (NFLX).
Just like LNKD's balance sheet, AMZN also underwhelms at 16 times book, and a cash pile representing only 5% of its market cap. Some might argue that I have been drinking the Kool-Aid that perma Amazon critics Paulo Santos and Tim Phillips have been constantly pouring out. The truth is, I have joined their crusade and fully realize the meaning of the phrase, "you live by the sword, you die by the sword." Their bearish Seeking Alpha articles on the leading Internet retailer are top notch and should not be ignored, especially by AMZN longs.
Honorable Mention: Chipotle (CMG) just received an Argus Research upgrade and is now less that 5% from an all time high. It is just crazy that a restaurant company that has guided flat to low single digit comparable store sales, is able to garner a nosebleed forward earnings multiple of 36, twice the valuation of McDonald's (MCD). The burrito purveyor is not without its critics, as hedge fund managers David Einhorn and Jeff Gundlach have placed huge bets against it.
Priceline (PCLN): this travel portal is starting to see its earnings growth diminish, thanks to the law of larger numbers and competitors such as Expedia nipping at its heels. At a forward multiple of 22 times 2013 estimates of $38.62 and a PEG ratio of 1.44, there is simply no room for error for this behemoth travel company.
Going against the grain: I realize it is unadvisable to be short in momentum stocks, especially when they are trading in new high territory, but with the increased risk of doing so, the reward also rises exponentially. When any type of bad news hits, these type of stocks are too difficult to short, as they can implode in a matter of minutes, or worst yet, a potential short seller will not be able to find any shares to borrow. I definitely want to be short, when "you know what" finally hits the fan! The fact is, fear has more impact on a falling stock than elation has on a rising one.
Could these darlings of Wall Street become the next "crash and burn victims"? Many think so, but as we all know, the market can stay irrational longer than anyone disagreeing can stay solvent. In the meantime, these companies are being pumped up with sky-high expectations, as new speculators count on the premise that they will be able to find greater fools down the road to unload upon. The higher these companies rise, the farther their eventual fall back to earth will be. The reality is, stocks tend to drop twice as far, and at twice the rate on bad news, as they rise on good news. This would have to be the case, as short selling is a much riskier proposition (you are exposed to unlimited losses) than going long, hence the higher reward potential.
Additional disclosure: I am also long FB.