Uncertainty has been a major theme in the economy over the past few years.
The financial crisis touched off uncertainty in everything. The economy was been weak, creating uncertainty in businesses and their decisions on how much to reinvest. Unemployment has been so high — near 14% real unemployment these days — that consumers have been uncertain as to how much they should spend. Obamacare created uncertainty — first in whether it would remain in place, and now as to how much it will cost businesses, consumers and the country to run.
Most recently, the fiscal cliff has created uncertainty for everyone and anyone that pays taxes. Even though I strongly suspect we will not drive off this cliff, getting more detailed than that isn’t possible.
And it is this uncertainty, particularly regarding taxes, that has caused Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) stock to fall from its September peak above $700 to as low as $505 (and recover, as of this writing, to $565).
Apple has been a go-to stock for many institutions and investors. The company simply hasn’t done anything wrong. It continues to execute, time and time again. Still, that wasn’t able to keep it from a pretty big bleed.
The trouble has appeared in Apple stock in three waves:
- The first was when the company breached $700 — that psychological level triggered a number of people to take profits off the table. Anyone who got in before July 2011 was sitting on a doubler, so the smart money decided it was time to get out. That took the stock down to around $610.
- Then Apple missed estimates. Amazingly, this didn’t cause the stock to crater, probably because everyone saw the market had just taken the company down a hundred bucks a share, but it still eroded down to $585.
- Then came the axe. Obama was re-elected. The entire market sold off. It was now apparent that Obamacare would remain in place, along with its hike on capital gains taxes. No matter what happened with the fiscal cliff, an additional 3.8% tax would be assigned. If you’re an institution, and you are sitting on multi-year gains from Apple, you will save a boatload in taxes by selling off that position before year’s end.
Add to this rate hike the possibility that long-term capital gains rates will go up after Jan. 1 and not be negotiated downward in the fiscal cliff talks. That could send the tax bill even higher.
Thus, Apple stock is being sold. If you were an institution and you saw other institutions bailing, you’d have done the same. Once the stock broke after Election Day, I think retail investors piled in also.
So, does the selling continue?
It’s possible. From a technical analysis standpoint, Monday’s rally to $565 has brought the stock up to the 200-day moving average. This “snapback” move is not uncommon when important support has been breached.
In addition, the economy appears headed back into recession. This might impact sales at Apple, but it’s hard to say. Despite their luxury prices, Apple’s products have become practical staples, and should be treated as such until proven otherwise.
On the other side, its possible that institutions that capitulated on the upside bought in after $600 was passed on the upside, and bought all the way up to $700, but decided to sell out after the election. They sold to harvest the capital losses, and thus may re-enter on Dec. 6, after the 30-day wash sale period has passed.
As of this writing, Lawrence Meyers did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities. He is president of PDL Capital, Inc., which brokers secure high-yield investments to the general public and private equity. You can read his stock market commentary at SeekingAlpha.com. He also has written two books and blogs about public policy, journalistic integrity, popular culture and world affairs.