We easily can decide that the only thing that matters is whether the United Kingdom is going to stay with the European Union. We have prominent rich people who don't care much about stocks saying that catastrophe awaits if the British leave the EU. We have hedge fund managers like the uber-rich George Soros talking about how the pound sterling, the British currency, will crash. We have wall-to-wall coverage of this event in every periodical and television station, more than I can recall when Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain were about to go belly-up a few years ago.
I really think we have the possibility here, for the first time, of making something that isn't a big deal into something that is. Honestly, if major countries were to have defaulted -- I mean actually miss debt deadlines -- then I think we could have had a genuine collapse of the West. But this issue, which does not involve the U.S., already has vastly exceeded the worry and handwringing of a far-worse European crisis, which I think easily could have rivaled the panic of 2008-2009.
I am choosing not to worry as much about Brexit because everyone else is. I know that if our stock market gets blitzed because of the dislocation that an exit might bring, it will be my job to recommend the stocks that should not have been hammered because they had nothing to do with Britain. Of course, I have to wait for the people who have decided they have nothing to fear but fear of Brexit itself to dump their stocks for this exquisite opportunity. Otherwise, I think that you will be buying many stocks too high.
Why do I say that? Because while everyone else seems to be waiting for Brexit to play out, I have been watching companies report numbers and they are either not so hot or they are being received poorly.
Take two that reported today: Carmax (KMX) and Lennar (LEN), one of the biggest car dealers and one of the largest homebuilders, respectively.
The car dealer disappointed with very slow comparable-store sales: 0.2%. That's abysmal. And while Carmax was genuinely proud of the results, I remember the days when things were smoking-hot at this company. They sell a lot of used cars, which did make me feel like that market might not hold up, and that's bad news for this industry, which many think is peaking.
Lennar totally befuddled me. This incredibly well-run company saw its stock soar at the opening but then come right back down to earth and then some, and all I can say is that the market's reaction was way too negative. Perhaps the lack of gross margin expansion hurt Lennar, but it's a reminder how this market doesn't like housing stocks any more than it likes auto stocks.
At the same time, both Canadian Pacific (CP), the giant railroad to the north, and Werner (WERN), the behemoth trucking company, both said business is subpar, leading to giant declines in their stocks. Now CP's earnings were hurt by the wildfires out west, but its agricultural business was weak, too. Werner owned up that business is sluggish.
When you put it all together -- housing, trucking, rails, autos -- they are all creating the same picture Janet Yellen did when the Fed chief spoke in front of the Senate. The economy is just not as strong as it was, and that's more important, at least to me, than Brexit.
Now we had a turn in the market, and the turn was a predictable one: Oil, which had been down badly, off a buck, managed to cut the losses and that sent the oil stocks scurrying higher and turned around the overall market as oil surely seems to do every time it rallies, even intra-day.
The turn was helped by a stunning statement from Schlumberger (SLB), which is part of the Action Alerts PLUS portfolio, that North American fracking prices -- the difficult shale drilling that had been at the heart of the near-doubling of our production since 2008 -- are 20% to 30% below breakeven. If that's the case, then oil production isn't going to go much higher and prices might rise as supply dwindles. How long can some of the more-extended companies keep pumping at that level? That's certainly good news for the oil patch, as is the reduced work that Schlumberger is doing for Venezuela, the country with the largest reserves left on Earth.
Once again, a sluggish economy creates more buying in the stuff that you can eat and wash with. The group seems impervious these days as Goldman Sachs, for example, begged people again to sell J.M. Smucker (SJM) -- as it has for the last 15 points -- and it rallied once more.
A couple of stocks that haven't been able to get out of their own way lately, Facebook (FB) and Apple (AAPL), saw some good news, and these two members of the Action Alerts PLUS portfolio actually went higher. Facebook's Instagram revealed that it passed 500 million users, adding the last 100 million faster than the previous 100 million. Apple got the greenlight to open retail stores in India. Still, these bits of news normally would have caused much bigger moves up.
To me, the crucial company to watch is Microsoft (MSFT), which has agreed to pay $26.2 billion for LinkedIn (LNKD), the professional-oriented social media platform that is growing much more slowly than Instagram. Microsoft saw its stock rally above where it was when it made the highly panned deal. That's something, and it says to me that there's a real scarcity of cloud, mobile and social stocks out there.
Many thought Microsoft overpaid for LinkedIn, but it does raise the question about how long Twitter (TWTR) can stay independent, doesn't it? We know Twitter, which also is part of the Action Alerts PLUS portfolio, is introducing longer video and some special amenities for celebs. We know it still has cache: It's the chief means by which someone got the Republican nomination with a very dwindling war chest and it has a part-time CEO who really should spend more time at Square (SQ) and get those credit problems worked out.
To me, you have to think if Microsoft's stock went up buying the slowing LinkedIn for $26.2 billion, then shelling out $18 billion, say, for the $11 billion Twitter could cause an Apple or Alphabet (GOOGL) -- another Action Alerts PLUS name -- or Facebook's stock to go even higher. Heck, Microsoft has enough cash it could put it together with LinkedIn!
As good as fast-growing tech was, biotech has become the most painful house in a really rough neighborhood. The bloodletting is extraordinary here and if we don't get some takeovers soon there seems not a leg to stand on. As bad as a Celgene (GELG) or a Gilead (GILD) might be, one has to take pity on anyone holding Valeant (VRX), which seems to have a stock that's disintegrating before our very eyes even as the company tells us to come on in, the water's fine. The darned thing feels shark-infested. I don't know about you, but I don't like to swim with Jaws. Nasty.
Still, I do want to circle back to THE ONLY STORY THAT MATTERS TO EVERYONE ELSE, Brexit, and I want to leave you with a question that I will be posing quite a lot on Friday morning -- none other than, "What does a decision by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union have to do with the price/earnings multiple of Bristol-Myers (BMY)?" And the answer: NOTHING.