As December approaches, many investors wish for the so-called “Santa Claus” rally. During this time, the market enjoys a bullish month capped off by an especially strong increase in stocks between Christmas and New Year’s. However, stocks have struggled in 2018 as interest rates creep higher and a trade war with China continues to intensify. Such occurrences often undermine December rallies and increase the number of stocks to sell.
Still, despite seeing a sustained bull run since March 2009, the S&P 500 trades at a price-earnings (P/E) ratio of about 21.8. This has fallen from the 25-plus multiples seen until recently. This drop should continue in December.
This will become especially true of some tech stocks, which have enjoyed high multiples. Assuming current market trends continue, investors should look to unload these stocks before seeing further pain in a December selloff:
To be sure, including a successful retailer such as Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) on a December “stocks to sell” list might appear counterintuitive. Admittedly, few companies find themselves better-positioned to benefit from the Christmas shopping season than Amazon. But to value investors, AMZN stock looks particularly vulnerable to the bear market taking hold.
Considering the company’s leadership position in the cloud industry, placing AMZN stock as a “retail equity” becomes less accurate by the month. Moreover, valuation has long remained a concern. The P/E ratio still stands at about 76 despite a selloff exceeding 25% since the beginning of September. While it’s impressive that Amazon has continued to grow its cash despite burning more of it each year, investors have numerous choices among stocks … why risk buying AMZN right now when buyers can purchase higher-growth stocks with lower multiples?
Moreover, speaking of growth, the company’s success will make growth more of a challenge. Considering Amazon’s position as the world’s fourth-largest company, its predicted long-term growth rate of 43.3% remains an astounding feat. Still, the laws of math play a role at some point. As I pointed out recently, it cannot keep “topping itself” at as high of a rate as in the past. At some point, investors become less impressed and not as inclined to pay high multiples.
I expect Amazon to play a dominant role in retail, cloud computing and other industries for decades to come. However, its accolades have become priced into the stock many times over. The lower P/E ratio has not changed this fact.
General Electric Company (GE)
Despite the recent CEO change, GE (NYSE:GE) stock remains on many stocks to sell lists. Slashing the quarterly dividend to one cent per share served as a confirmation that problems with the industrial giant continue.
Admittedly, GE stock appears inexpensive from a P/E standpoint. According to current estimates, the multiples stands at just above 10. Also, earnings estimates point to an eventual turnaround. However, GE suffers from lost confidence. Just when investors believe that all of the company’s problems have come to light, a new revelation emerges.
This causes earnings estimates to fall and investors to continue selling. Three months ago, analysts had predicted 2018 earnings of 95 cents per share. That same estimate stands at 70 cents per share today. As for GE stock, it has lost 45% of its value since early October.
Under most circumstances, such moves would turn into a buying opportunity. Still, stocks trading at 52-week lows tend to keep establishing new lows. Also, given the current pattern, one has to assume earnings estimates will continue to fall. More importantly, investors have to wonder what new problems will emerge after they peel back the next layer of the onion.
This lost confidence makes the true value proposition of GE stock difficult to define. Until the market knows the extent of GE’s problems, investors should stay away.
Netflix, Inc. (NFLX)
The high-flying stock of Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) has found itself buffering lately. NFLX stock has lost close to 40% of its value over the last five months. Unfortunately, for long-term holders, it could find itself falling further.
Despite the drop, the P/E stands at 97 times earnings. A predicted annual growth rate for the next five years of 61.8% makes that seem less high. However, that growth comes at a high cost. To maintain its lead in the streaming video industry it created, it has spent as much as $13 billion in 2018 alone creating content.
These costs have begun to show up on the company’s balance sheet. The third quarter of 2018 saw the company’s long-term debt load rise to almost $8.34 billion. This same figure stood at about $4.89 billion for the third quarter of 2017.
Moreover, this content spending may only hold Netflix’s lead among streaming services temporarily. When Disney (NYSE:DIS) launches Disney+ next year, it will move its content away from Netflix. I doubt the company will maintain its high multiples when it becomes the second-place streaming service holding a burdensome amount of debt. The public will spend December glued to Netflix Christmas specials. That could serve as a selling opportunity on NFLX stock before the pain intensifies in the months and years to come.
Roku, Inc. (ROKU)
Netflix and other streaming services have facilitated the success of Roku (NASDAQ:ROKU). Roku has brought streaming to standard television sets. Moreover, its early dominance allowed it to become a neutral player in the streaming industry.
This enables consumers to use multiple streaming services without the undue influence of one provider. More importantly, it does not rely purely on hardware like Fitbit (NYSE:FIT) or GoPro (NASDAQ:GPRO). It also runs an ad business that has further widened its competitive moat. However, investors have long since bid ROKU stock to sky-high valuations. It makes the list of stocks to sell both for that reason and for its loss of momentum. ROKU now trades at just over half of the value it saw as recently as early October. Still, the drop merely brings it down to levels it saw in June.
Despite that drop, ROKU has never earned an annual profit. Also, this first annual profit, expected for 2020, would take the 2020 forward P/E north of 300. That will come down as profits grow from a level of 13 cents per share. However, the predicted long-term annual growth rate of 20% will not support that valuation long term.
Roku stock has enjoyed success in carving out a viable niche in a business that could have taken it to “penny stock” status. Still, at current multiples, I think the public will do better investing in a Roku box rather than ROKU stock.
Snap, Inc. (SNAP)
The stock Snap (NYSE:SNAP) earns its way on the December stocks to sell list, and not only because it probably deserves that designation every month. The last few months have tested the social media industry as both Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) and Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) have seen their stocks swoon. However, unlike SNAP stock, both of these companies tend to earn profits. Moreover, Twitter has held its niche in social media.
Increasingly, the same cannot be said for SNAP. Thanks to Instagram, Snapchat has begun to fall behind in its core teen demographic. Also, outside of Snapchat, its product such as their spectacles and their short programs have failed to gain traction.
The financials also look troubling. Yes, the company beats earnings in most quarters. However, that always becomes a story of smaller-than-expected losses. Wall Street expects negative earnings for the company every year through at least 2021.
SNAP’s IPO faces a government investigation. Such issues have taken the stock to just above $6 per share. This low stock price and a lack of business success will make raising money more difficult. With the company unable to hold onto its niche or offer products that the public wants, investors should sell SNAP stock before it becomes a penny stock.
Square, Inc. (SQ)
Square (NYSE:SQ) played a crucial role in allowing smartphone users to accept credit card transactions. This gives both individuals and the smallest of businesses the ability to enjoy a greater participation in an increasingly cashless society. Since the government classifies 99.7% of enterprises as “small businesses,” this has a huge impact.
The company has also expanded its product line to serve somewhat larger businesses. Additionally, Square fought off challenges from Amazon and other much larger companies. This cemented its place as the Intuit (NASDAQ:INTU) or the PayPal (NASDAQ:PYPL) of this decade.
However, like many tech stocks, SQ stock makes the stocks to sell list primarily on valuation. It trades at this lofty metric even after the stock fell by around 35% since peaking in late September. The recent drop took SQ stock to levels it first saw in June. Still, SQ trades at about 142 times earnings despite the recent decline.
Analysts expect profits to grow by an average of 52.25% per year over the next five years. However, even with that growth rate, I think it will struggle to justify its current multiple. Christmas means more transactions will take place on Square products. However, with its high P/E ratio, I would treat December as a selling opportunity on SQ stock.
Starbucks Corporation (SBUX)
Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) has bucked the downtrend that hit almost every other stock this fall. The stock has risen by about 20% from October lows alone. An earnings report that saw better than expected comparable store sales increases prompted most of this move higher.
However, from just about every other standpoint, the price spike makes little sense. Its market has become saturated in both the U.S. and Canada. Moreover, the country where it stakes the largest share of near-term growth, China, faces challenges. An ongoing trade war could derail that growth at any time.
Moreover, with negligible comparable store sales growth, its growth in China depends almost entirely on new stores. Starbucks has begun to rival Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) and McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD) as global brands. However, such companies also tend to struggle with growth. Such a challenge would logically make Starbucks one of the stocks to sell.
Despite these challenges, SBUX stock trades at about 25 times earnings. This slightly exceeds current S&P averages, just as its profit growth for the year will probably fall just short of the double digits. Granted, many will not think to sell SBUX stock as consumers take a break from shopping with peppermint and eggnog lattes. However, with its growth story uncertain, investors may want to look at SBUX for a selling opportunity rather than as a secular growth story.
As of this writing, Will Healy did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned stocks. You can follow Will on Twitter at @HealyWriting.