Yesterday's tech for today
The S&P 500 has more than tripled in value since 2009, leading many to declare that U.S. stocks are fully valued. Taken as a whole, we would tend to agree. However, we still see opportunity in at least one sector – technology. While tightening monetary policy by the Fed and slowing growth abroad threaten to take the steam out of the bull market, we feel that tech stocks, particularly those of mature tech companies, are well positioned and offer meaningful upside potential in the near-term for the following reasons:
1. Strong balance sheets
Thanks to their enviable financial health, we believe tech companies are well positioned to potentially deliver shareholder returns over the coming year through share repurchases, dividend increases and M&A activity.
- High-quality, mature tech companies may be more inclined to take these actions and, in some cases, are being pushed to do so by activist investors.
- Apple, Microsoft, Google and Cisco possess a combined $345 billion in cash –- about 23% of total corporate cash reserves in the U.S. –- and the overall tech sector claims over half of such cash, according to dailyfinance.com.
- Share buybacks by S&P 500 tech companies have already begun to accelerate, increasing by 40.4% from Q2 to Q31.
2. Reasonably valued with upside potential
Tech stock valuations are moderately above their long-term average2, yet we find current levels justifiable and believe there is additional room to run.
- Over the last three years, the performance of the tech sector has been driven more by earnings growth than by multiple expansion3 ― a trend we expect to continue.
- Tech companies are posting impressive cash flows, and currently have the second-highest free cash-flow yield among all sectors in the S&P 5003.
3. Well positioned for upcoming rate and capital expenditure (capex) cycles
With the U.S. economy continuing to improve, the Fed is widely expected to raise rates in 2015.
- Increasing borrowing costs should have less of an effect on tech as it is the only sector with positive net cash (Figure 1).
- Tech has historically performed well during periods of rising rates, particularly compared to sectors with more debt.4
- As a pro-cyclical growth sector, tech stands to benefit from continued economic improvement and an expected increase in capital spending by U.S. companies across the board.
Figure 1: Net debt to market cap for S&P 500 sectors