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Stay the Course

By Jeff Liguori

 

One trillion dollars. That number of zeroes, 12 in all, is difficult to comprehend.

But in the world of investing, ‘trillion’ is becoming more common. Market capitalization, computed by multiplying the number of shares outstanding by the current price of that company’s stock, is a standard measure of valuation for a public company. There are currently seven stocks with a valuation that exceeds $900 billion: Microsoft, Apple, NVIDIA, Amazon, Meta (formerly Facebook), Alphabet (formerly Google), and Berkshire Hathaway, in order of size.

The valuation of those seven companies is currently $15.9 trillion in aggregate. At the start of 2020, the valuation of the same seven companies combined was roughly $5.6 trillion, and only two companies — Apple and Microsoft — had exceeded $1 trillion in market capitalization.

We will refer to these seven companies as the ‘Super Seven.’

Jeff Liguori

Jeff Liguori

“Comparing the output of a country to that of a technology company is a fun exercise, and not at all realistic, but it does illustrate the magnitude of these trillion-dollar behemoths.”

In a little more than four years, despite a global pandemic which took the S&P 500 down by nearly 30% in a month, the market cap of the Super Seven has increased by almost 300%, while the S&P 500 has returned almost 74%.

For perspective, the gross domestic product (GDP) of the U.S. is approximately $28 trillion, up from $22 trillion at the end of 2019, an increase of 27%. The U.S. workforce is about 134 million people, which means each worker contributes, on average, $209,000 to annual GDP. In contrast, the Super Seven have a total of 3.06 million employees (Amazon is more than half of that total) and should generate about $2.5 trillion in revenue this year, which equates to $827,000 of output per employee. Employees of the Super Seven contribute 300% more than the average employee in the U.S. contributes to our GDP.

If Microsoft was a country, it would be the sixth-largest in the world, slightly smaller than the GDP of India but larger than that of the United Kingdom. Apple would be the eighth-largest, in between the economies of France and Russia. If the two companies merged to form the country of Microapple, it would be the third-largest economy at nearly $6 trillion dollars, with fewer than 400,000 residents.

OK, maybe these are not fair comparisons.

Other than Berkshire Hathaway, the seven companies are technology-focused, which by their nature require fewer workers because the businesses are highly efficient. The U.S. economy is dominated by service jobs, and approximately 80 million of the 134 million employed are paid hourly. Comparing the output of a country to that of a technology company is a fun exercise, and not at all realistic, but it does illustrate the magnitude of these trillion-dollar behemoths.

What can this top-heavy market indicate about future returns? Jason Goepfert of Sundial Capital Research, which uses huge data sets to help frame market direction, looked at the performance of equally weighting the 500 stocks in the index versus the actual performance of the S&P 500, where it is weighted by size, thus dominated by the Super Seven.

In the past three years, the equally weighted index is up 25% versus 36% for the S&P 500. The gap widens further, a 75% versus 98% return, respectively, in the past five years. It is the second-widest spread since 1958. When was the gap higher? In late 1999, as the dot-com bubble was nearing a climax. Some market analysts are concerned that the artificial-intelligence boom, which has fueled growth in these large technology companies, is the new dot-com bubble.

Despite the average stock underperforming the S&P 500 for the past few years, there may be reason for optimism. My firm, Napatree Capital, put out commentary (click here) in October of last year highlighting shares of Target (TGT) as an example of a stock that could play “catch-up” and help fuel the rally. We noted that “shares of Target (TGT) are trading 25%-30% below its historic average valuation, and more than 50% below its peak valuation. The stock is down 27% year to date, after losing 34% of its value in 2022. If such stocks start to rally, it should be healthy for the broader market.”

Since Nov. 1 of last year, the price of Target’s stock has rallied nearly 65%. And it is a similar story for other bellwether stocks such as Citigroup (C), Delta Airlines (DAL), Home Depot (HD), Bank of America (BAC), Disney (DIS), and others, which had dismal performance leading into the third quarter of last year but have since beaten the S&P 500 by a wide margin.

If you’re frustrated by the returns in your portfolio, it implies that you don’t own large positions in a small number of stocks, mostly in the same sector. But stay the course. Prudent investing is built on broad diversification across a range of categories. Owning the underperformers may yield excellent results just yet. Following the tech bubble in 1999, those forgotten, boring, blue-chip-type stocks outperformed their tech brethren for nearly a decade.

Maybe past performance is an indication of future results.

 

Jeff Liguori is the co-founder and chief Investment officer of Napatree Capital, an investment boutique with offices in Longmeadow as well as Providence and Westerly, R.I.; (401) 437-4730.