There are a number of investment ideas that pop up about once per generation, work well for years, and then investors get reminded of why they’re not so good, and they get ignored for long enough that the average investor doesn’t remember that the idea has been tried.
The idea I’m remembering this month is known by the phrase Nifty Fifty, meaning that there were about 50 stocks that were considered safe investments, whose reliable growth enabled investors to ignore standard valuation measures such as price/earnings ratios, dividend yields, and price to book value.
The spirit behind the Nifty Fifty was characterized by this line from a cryonaut in Woody Allen’s Sleeper (1973): “I bought Polaroid at seven, it’s probably up millions by now!”.
There was nothing particularly wrong with the belief that those were good companies. The main mistakes were to believe that their earnings would grow forever, and/or that growing earnings would imply growing stock prices, no matter how high the current stock price is.
I’ve seen a number of stocks recently that seem to fit this pattern, with Amazon and Salesforce mostly clearly fitting the stereotype. I also ran into one person a few months ago who believed that Amazon was a good investment because it’s a reliable source of 15+% growth. I also visited Salesforce Park last month, and the wealth that it radiated weakly suggests the kind of overconfidence that’s associated with an overpriced stock market.
I took a stab at quantifying my intuitions, and came up with a list of 50 companies (shown below) based on data from SI Pro as of 2019-09-20, filtered by these criteria:
- pe_ey1 > 30 (price more that 30 times next year’s forecast earnings)
- mktcap > 5000 (market capitalization more than $5 billion)
- prp_2yh > 75 (price more than 75% of its 2 year high)
- rsales_g5f > 50 (5 year sales growth above the median stock in the database)
- sales_y1 < 0.33333*mktcap (market capitalization more than 3 times last year’s sales)
- yield < 3 (dividend yield less than 3%)
- pbvps > 5 (price more than 5 times book value)
- epsdc_y2 > 0 (it earned money the year before last)
I did a half-assed search over the past 20 years, and it looks like there were more companies meeting these criteria in the dot com bubble (my data for that period isn’t fully comparable), but during 2005-2015 there were generally less than a dozen companies meeting these criteria.
The companies on this list aren’t as widely known as I’d expected, which weakens the stereotype a bit, but otherwise they fit the Nifty Fifty pattern of the market seeming confident that their earnings will grow something like 20% per year for the next decade.
There were some other companies that arguably belonged on the list, but which the filter excluded mainly due to their forward price/earnings ratio being less than 30: BABA (Alibaba Group Holding Ltd), FB (Facebook), and GOOGL (Alphabet). Maybe I should have used a threshold less than 30, or maybe I should take their price/earnings ratio as evidence that the market is evaluating them sensibly.
This looks like a stock market bubble, but a significantly less dramatic one than the dot com bubble. The market is doing a decent job of distinguishing good companies from bad ones (much more so than in the dot com era), and is merely getting a bit overconfident about how long the good ones will be able to maintain their relative quality.
How much longer will these stocks rise? I’m guessing until the next major bear market. No, I’m sorry, I don’t have any prediction for when that bear market will occur or what will trigger it. It will likely be triggered by something that’s not specific to the new nifty fifty.
I’m currently short EQIX. I expect to short more of these stocks someday, but probably not this year.
|AMT||American Tower Corp||52||100520||7440.1||1.7||18.21|
|AZPN||Aspen Technology, Inc.||30.5||8820.8||598.3||0||22.2|
|BFAM||Bright Horizons Family Solutio||37.2||9181.8||1903.2||0||10.21|
|CMG||Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc.||48||23067.9||4865||0||15.04|
|CSGP||CoStar Group Inc||49.3||21878.4||1191.8||0||6.74|
|DASTY||Dassault Systemes SE (ADR)||32.9||37683.3||3839||1||7.05|
|EW||Edwards Lifesciences Corp||36.7||44736.3||3722.8||0||13.06|
|FICO||Fair Isaac Corporation||36.5||9275.5||1032.5||0||33.71|
|FIVE||Five Below Inc||33.6||7152.1||1559.6||0||10.86|
|GWRE||Guidewire Software Inc||70.3||8835.9||652.8||0||5.84|
|IDXX||IDEXX Laboratories, Inc.||49.3||23570.6||2213.2||0||138.03|
|INXN||InterXion Holding NV||106.8||5995.1||620.2||0||7.95|
|ISRG||Intuitive Surgical, Inc.||38.8||61020.9||3724.2||0||8.44|
|LULU||Lululemon Athletica inc.||33.7||25222.7||3288.3||0||16.36|
|MDSO||Medidata Solutions Inc||43.4||5734.1||635.7||0||8.35|
|MKTX||MarketAxess Holdings Inc.||56.7||12941.1||435.6||0.6||18.93|
|MPWR||Monolithic Power Systems, Inc.||31.5||6761.2||582.4||1||9.44|
|MTCH||Match Group Inc||38.4||22264.7||1729.9||0||105.51|
|OLED||Universal Display Corporation||45.5||8622.8||247.4||0.2||11.36|
|PAYC||Paycom Software Inc||51.3||12812.8||566.3||0||28.6|
|PCTY||Paylocity Holding Corp||47.6||5150.5||467.6||0||17.01|
|TAL||TAL Education Group (ADR)||39.4||21326.2||2563||0||8.45|
|TREX||Trex Company Inc||30.2||5074.2||684.3||0||13.05|
|TYL||Tyler Technologies, Inc.||43.5||10004.5||935.3||0||6.98|
|VEEV||Veeva Systems Inc||62||21366.2||862.2||0||15.27|
|VRSK||Verisk Analytics, Inc.||32.3||25948.4||2395.1||0.6||11.73|
|ZAYO||Zayo Group Holdings Inc||42.5||7997.8||2578||0||5.95|