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By Jason Stipp and Jeremy Glaser | 04-20-2012 02:00 PM

Will Investors Hold On?

Morningstar markets editor Jeremy Glaser sizes up investor reactions following news this week from the tech sector, Berkshire Hathaway, B of A, the housing market, and Amex.

Jason Stipp: I'm Jason Stipp for Morningstar, and welcome to The Friday Five.

Among a mixed bag of news this week, we have to ask if shareholders and companies are still holding on.

Here with me to offer a rundown is Morningstar markets editor Jeremy Glaser.

Jeremy, thanks for joining me.

Jeremy Glaser: You're welcome, Jason.

Stipp: What do you have for The Friday Five this week?

Glaser: Well, this week we're going to take a look at tech earnings, Warren Buffett, housing, Bank of America, and American Express.

Stipp: We have heard [earnings] from a few tech companies; the market seemed to be somewhat disappointed with some of their results. What's your read on that?

Glaser: Particularly at Intel and IBM, the market was not thrilled with the numbers that they put out for the first quarter of 2012. I think that maybe this was just a case of expectations getting ahead of reality for these corporations. They actually turned in pretty good quarters. Intel has been on a really great run, so has IBM. They had been just posting quarter after quarter of great growth. Then when they post a quarter of good growth, investors become a little bit disappointed and maybe seize an opportunity to take some money off the table.

But ... our analysts think that Intel in particular really has a good amount of growth ahead of it, that as a lot of people invest in more servers, as more data gets put into cloud computing, you need a big servers to run that. Intel chips could very well be the ones that are going to be powering them. It's a good, long-term secular trend for the company, and just because growth was a little bit slower this quarter doesn't mean that the whole thesis is broken. So, I think that these earnings really weren't disappointing in the aggregate, and certainly investors should be holding on there.

Stipp: So, some reasons for tech investors to stay of course.

We also got news this week from Berkshire Hathaway. Some troubling news. Warren Buffett has some health issues; hopefully they will not be too serious. But it does bring the succession issue back to the forefront. Do Berkshire shareholders have reason to hold on there?

Glaser: Well, I think that they do, and they did this week. After Warren Buffett announced that he did have prostate cancer, stage one prostate cancer, the shares really didn't sell off very much. I think that's because the prognosis was pretty good. They caught it early. He is going to be able to go in for the treatment that he needs, and they don't think that it's life-threatening, and he thinks that he'll be able to continue to be at helm for some time.

At the same time he has been working very carefully on these succession issues. He's now identified the person who will be taking over for him. He has been giving over relatively small sleeves of his investment portfolio to new managers who are out there, kind of putting their investment acumen to work and helping manage that huge amount of float they get from the insurance business. So, I think the thesis on Berkshire really remains intact, and certainly we wish Warren Buffett the best hope that he has speedy recovery.

Stipp: In economic news, we got some more housing data, and I guess you could described it as, "eh." Is the housing market holding on here or we might see it turn down again?

Glaser: It looks like it's holding on, but certainly there is not a lot of growth.

We got a couple of disparate housing data points this week, and all of them pointed to the fact that the market is really still kind of bottomed out. Even though prices are rising a little bit and supply still looks reasonably good, people just aren't out there buying a ton of new homes. The sales volume continues to be pretty lethargic, even when you have incredibly low rates and that rent-or-buy decision is leaning more and more toward buying.

I think it just shows that people are still a little bit hesitant to jump into the market. They are worried that prices could come down some more, but eventually as rents continue to rise and rates continue to stay low, the economic logic will start to force people back into homes, back into the housing market, and I think they should be able to hold on without a huge decline from today's lows.

Stipp: We also heard from Bank of America, obviously a bank that through the financial crisis had a lot of issues to work through. Are they working through those, are they holding on through this recovery?

Glaser: They really seem to be holding on to their mortgage problems from the boom period.

As much as Bank of America is trying to make strides in terms of cost-cutting, as much as they are actually making some money in trading, an area that they weren't doing so well before, those mortgage problems just keep coming up quarter-after-quarter, and unlike other banks who seem to be really putting the [mortgage mess] behind [them], it's front and center for Bank of America.

The GSEs like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac keep coming back to them and saying the mortgages that you wrote, we're basically going to put them back to you; you are going to have a big liability and you are going to have to pay us a big payout because you wrote these loans that ... aren't performing, aren't doing very well, and it continues to be a problem.

Now [Bank of America has] a huge reserve set aside to deal with these problems. So it's not like they're going to have a big liquidity crunch related to it, but certainly it shows that we are going to be hearing about it a lot, and it's troubling for Bank of America investors, and I think it continues to be one of the primary reasons to be a little bit cautious about those shares.

Stipp: Consumers are a huge part of the U.S. economy. We have bulls and bears lined up about whether they are continuing to spend they are not continuing to spend. We got some data this week, and some other indications that show they might be holding on?

Glaser: Yes, the data this week show that consumers really are spending. American Express announced earnings, and among that, you can see some interesting data about how those American Express card members are spending. The average spend per card member was up 10% in the quarter, which is a pretty substantial increase, and that comes on top of some retail sales numbers that also looked pretty robust and looked better than expectations.

So I think that you look at those data points, you look at some other retail firms and other retail data--I know Bob Johnson has mentioned a couple of other surveys that he looks at--and it really looks like consumers are out there spending. So even with this backdrop of the European debt crisis, even with the backdrop of an election year, and all this other stuff going on, people are out there spending money, they are putting it on their American Express [card], and I think that really can help power the economy through maybe some slower ... periods.

Stipp: Jeremy, I'll be holding on until next Friday when you join me once more for the Friday Five, but thanks for being here today.

Glaser: You are very welcome, Jason.

Stipp: For Morningstar, I'm Jason Stipp. Thanks for watching.

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