After plunging to 10-year lows in November, Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) has emerged as one of the top stocks in the market so far in 2013. BBY shares more than doubled year-to-date, confounding skeptics and rewarding contrarians who used the autumn sell-off to buy one of last year’s most hated stocks.
But with such large gains already in the books, does Best Buy have any room left to run?
Maybe, but the wise course is to use this extraordinary rally — and the bounce of the last few days — as an opportunity to exit.
Before getting into the bear case, it’s necessary to look at what’s driving Best Buy. The launch of the Samsung (PINK:SSNLF) store-within-a-store — while immediately reflected in BBY shares, which rose 14% on the news — indicates that Best Buy is on the road to improve its offerings and make better use of its square footage.
The price match guarantee has also been well received by investors, since it is designed to address the “showrooming” issue, where shoppers view products at Best Buy but make their purchases elsewhere. The new Internet sales tax, if it passes, is also a positive development since it reduces the advantage of online competitors.
Finally, Best Buy remains inexpensive even after its recent run-up, trading at 10 times forward earnings, 0.16 times sales and a yield of 2.8%.
Analysts seem to like all these factors. Just this month, Sanford Bernstein, Stifel Nicolaus, and Janney Montgomery Scott all lifted their price targets. Janney, which boosted its target to $36 from $21, made the most dramatic move of the three. The stock is trading around $24 currently.
At the same time, however, the good news is well-known and already incorporated into BBY’s 102% year-to-date gain — meaning that incremental positive news may be necessary to keep the stock moving higher. At some point, the thesis “Best Buy’s worst days are behind it” needs to be replaced by actual, sustainable growth.
The potential vulnerability of turnaround stories is illustrated by the recent difficulties of Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ). After climbing 104% from its mid-November low through April 2, HPQ fell 12% in the next 14 session following a downgrade from Goldman Sachs.
Another reason for caution is that Best Buy reports earnings on Tuesday, May 21 — a little under four weeks from now. Investors have shown no tolerance for earnings misses in the current reporting season, as evidenced by the losses of over 5% for Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) and AT&T (NYSE:T) yesterday after the companies missed expectations.
If stocks in the “stable dividend payers” camp can get hit this hard on a miss or reduced guidance, where does that leave a lower-quality name like Best Buy given its year-to-date gain of over 100%? Further, BBY’s earnings estimates have risen modestly in recent weeks, meaning that the company has to meet a higher bar.
With that in mind, the looming earnings report could soon come into play. Many investors may be cautious about committing new capital to Best Buy ahead of a news event, which could cap further gains ahead of the report. The report could be positive, of course, but why take the chance with the stock already having doubled year-to-date?
The technical picture for Best Buy is also dicey at this stage. While the uptrend remains in place, the stock is sitting only a little over 2% above its lower trendline. Also, notice that BBY’s RSI (relative strength index) is rolling over even as the stock moves higher.
Finally, volume has ticked below the 200-day moving average for several days in a row (highlighted by the square in the chart below), indicating waning interest in the stock despite its modest upturn of the past few sessions. All of these are potential warning signs that BBY could weaken in the near future.
There’s no denying that BBY has had a great run so far this year. However, Best Buy is in a similar situation to Staples (NYSE:SPLS) — a reasonably valued, dividend paying company with plenty of fans. But Staples — like Best Buy — is a specialty retailer that has faced increased competition from Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) and the availability of certain key products at broad-based discounters such as Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) and Costco (NYSE:COST).
Staples has had plenty of impressive short-term rallies in the past three years, but as the accompanying chart demonstrates, the primary trend remains down with a loss of over 45% in that time.
Ultimately, this year’s rally in Best Buy is likely to represent a short-term reversal in the stock’s longer-term downtrend. If you’re among those smart enough to have benefited from BBY’s big gains in 2013, this is the time to take profits.
As of this writing, Daniel Putnam held BBY puts.