I like Apple (AAPL) products and am a proud owner of a number of them. However I am not a fan of its stock at the current price of $380, due to the possibilities of the economy entering into a flat growth or recessionary market, as well as Apple longetivity in beating expectations and product innovation.
I know that Apple continues to grow, impresses analysts and routinely smashes market expectations, but ultimately they will encounter the forces of gravity as well. Why? Name me one tech company that has been a sustainable long-term high growth stock that has always held a market premium and darling status. The big question here is ultimately when does it lose its crown? I do not know. Trying to be bearish on that type of premise will likely cause painful losses if you do not get lucky with timing.
So, the reason I have not been bearish on Apple for the past couple of year or two is because of the economy growing (even though some of the data has been indicating weakness for awhile now), and the fact that a strong product pipeline and innovation was occuring. However, Apple is now getting to the point that if the economy does truly turn south, then it is going to get hammered along with other high value growth stocks, much more so than the S&P 500 (SPY) will.
Remember from January 2nd, 2008 through March 6, 2009, Apple dropped 56.17% compared to the S&P dropping roughly 51%. Going into January 2nd, 2008 Apple had outperformed the broad market by roughly 190% based on a 5-yr chart.
However, even worse this time around is the fact that Apple has outperformed the S&P 500 by 50% in the past year but over 400% on the 5-yr chart. Well, I guess it is not even worse for those who have been bullish over the time periods but it opens them up to losing a lot of their potential profits.
If we do enter into a strong economic recession or even a period of lack luster spending, then Apple will likely face growth hurdles; which would lead to declines in the stock. A repeat of the 2008 and 2009 market declines would mean a likely 50-60% decline in share price or $228 per share, or Apple shares at roughly $152.
The one good thing is that Apple's January 2013 puts are not that much more expensive compared to the SPY puts. January 2013 $380 puts cost $61.75 or 16.25% of the stock price while January 2013 $119 puts SPY cost $15.79 or 13.26% of the stock price. Comparable puts in Amazon cost 18.54%.
Since Apple puts do not cost that much more in premium than SPY puts it is much less complicated to simply buy Apple puts versus trying to hedge and correlate. The one added benefit of buying Apple puts versus SPY puts is that you get protection if Apple starts to fall out of favor.
Some things that could cause Apple to fall out of favor are: Steve Jobs abruptly leaving the company, a highly touted product fails upon launch, growth slows down in existing products with no new highly touted products to boost results or a combination of all three.
As for right now, I am very cautiously bearish on Apple and the $380 puts mentioned above probably should only be purchased by someone hedging share or call positions in Apple. If someone is outright bearish on Apple, I would enter into a put calendar spread or a put spread to lower the net debit.
If market data starts to come out with a recession growing higher in probability or Apple growth starting to lag, then one could close out of the put spread and then buy more lower strike puts with the profits from the put spread. That way, you are playing with the house's money and gain the ability to close the trades out earlier without having to worry about the short put option component.