"The quick turn in the market (the first five days of this week) is a reminder that investment success comes not from out-guessing the market but from correctly analyzing the prospects for a business," my savvy colleague Alex Green reminded me.
"And the best signal you can get is top executives buying significant amounts of their own company’s stock with their own money. It just doesn’t get much better than that."
I agree wholeheartedly, especially when one is buying companies that offer "Growth at a Reasonable Price," also known as "G.A.R.P."
The most obvious example is Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), which since its intra-day low on June 20th, 2011, of $310.50 has exploded to the upside 25%. That's a hefty move in a little over four weeks.
Look at the chart below to illustrate how AAPL's share price have moved compared to its 50-day and 200-day moving averages.
Even at $388-per-share, AAPL is trading at a little above 13 times forward 12-month earnings, which historically have been understated.
G.A.R.P. money mangers usually are ones who seek a balance between strong earnings and good value. That's generally why AAPL would fit this description.
G.A.R.P. investors also look for companies that have been ignored or overlooked by market analysts and are still selling at a cheap price based on their earnings and profits margins.
Like value investors, G.A.R.P. investors try to find companies that are only temporarily undervalued and that have some sort of catalyst for growth that may not be obvious.
Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO), trading at less than 10 times next year's most conservative earnings projections, may be a fair G.A.R.P. example. This may explain why its shares have spurted 3.5% higher again today (Thursday) on reasonable volume.
CSCO's profit margin is still an impressive 17% and it sports a 20% operating margin. It has over $43 billion of total cash and over $5 billion of levered free cash flow to work with.
I'm not convinced it can help the share price by only cutting operating costs, but "activist" shareholders aren't going to stand by and let CSCO's quarterly revenue growth stay at the current 5% growth rate.
Expectations are low and the set-up for some nice upside earnings and revenue growth surprises remain promising.
Again, the recent stock price movement (so far it's on an impressive three-day winning streak that has now extended to a 6% jump) may be a strong indicator that both institutional and individual G.A.R.P. investors see reasons to be optimistic.
Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) is, in my opinion a good example of this. It is trading down toward its 52-week low, yet it has almost 20% profit margin, 14% operating margin, almost no debt and it's sitting on $2.8 billion of total cash.
Yes, the most recent quarter's revenue growth and earnings growth (year-over-year) was down (minus 24% and minus 28%) compared to the same robust period last year.
YHOO faces some big challenges and stiff competition from the likes of Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), and its search alliance with Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) hasn't yielded the level of positive results it has evidently hoped for.
This may be due in part to a reorganization of the sales team within the company which management said also contributed to the overall sales decline. Yahoo claims it was left understaffed toward the end of the quarter.
The Yahoo-Microsoft alliance apparently impacted revenue growth in the second quarter of 2011. Technical issues in Microsoft's adCenter platform led to revenue-per-search (RPS) being lower than expected for the quarter.
Growth in display revenues (excluding traffic acquisition costs--TAC) was close to 5% over the second quarter of 2010, considerably lower than the 10% growth in Q1 2011 over Q1 2010.
According to the statements management made during the earnings conference call, the decrease is attributable to a change in the company's sales leadership structure as well as changes in the sales force, which led to reduced client interaction for the quarter. Those are not the kind of excuses analysts like to hear.
With both Google and Facebook gaining significant market share in the ad display market, it is crucial for Yahoo to maintain a double-digit display revenue growth to stay competitive and profitable in the future.
You can see where this information and the company's outlook derives by going to its press room section here. Then check out the company news page and you'll see how many ways YHOO has to grow its business while increasing both revenues and net earnings.
It's not being able to see the potential that a G.A.R.P. company like YHOO has that makes it a bargain at these prices.
One of the biggest overlooked positives is that the combined search market share of Microsoft’s Bing and Bing-powered Yahoo (AKA BingHoo) keeps creeping higher.
The latest market share figures from comScore’s qSearch service are out, (click here) and the combined BingHoo! climbed to 30.2% market share of total explicit searches (excluding the effects of slideshows, contextual search, and Google Instant).
This was up 0.2% from May, but it's in the right direction. Google remained rather flat at a 65.5% share.
One of my favorite G.A.R.P. companies is ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP). Its quarterly revenue and earnings growth rates (year-over-year) have been most impressive (28% and 44% respectively).
COP sells at 9 times current earnings and a little over 8 times next year's earnings. The Return on Equity (trailing twelve months) is a respectable 18.4% and its current plan to split the upstream and downstream operating units into two separate corporate entities has so far had a favorable stock market reaction.
An article today from Barron's suggests that the decision is "flawed" (see here) but apparently investors don't fully agree as the stock is up today almost 2% in spite of the article.
COP plays a generous 3.5% and as you can see from the chart below, it is trading above the 50 and 200-day moving averages, and since the announcement of the "split" the stock has positive "momentum."
Careful analysis of the companies financial condition, plans for growth, leadership competence and investor patience are the keys to making G.A.R.P. investing work.
Yes, AAPL stock may be on its way to a $500 share price, but everyone seems to know about that and thanks to analysts like Jim Cramer it's not a hidden expectation.
But if YHOO's price went up from its current $13.50 to around $18 (a 33% increase) or COP's split works well and the combined value of the after-split shares for shareholders would increase 15% (including the current dividend yield of 3.5%) over the coming year, many except patient G.A.R.P. investors might be surprised.
Don't be surprised to see company insiders buying more of the shares of the companies mentioned above in the days and weeks ahead. That would be another positive "surprise" that may help the eventual results.
Disclosure: I am long AAPL, CSCO, COP.
Additional disclosure: I'm considering buying shares of YHOO within the next few days if the price corrects down to the recent support level of $13.45 and again closes above that level.