How'd you like that week, to start 2000? On day one, Monday, the Nasdaq gapped up 2.8% before it even opened for trading. It ended the day ahead 1.52% while the Rule Breaker Port gained a near record (but not quite) 11.77%.
On Tuesday, the Nasdaq gapped down 100 points before it opened (huh?! that was unheard of, before this) and ended the day down 5.55%. The BreakerPort lost 6.7%. Now that there, kids, is volatility. The entire week was soaked with volatility and then ended with a bang, as if someone plugged the Nasdaq into an electrical outlet:
Nasdaq BreakerPort Monday +1.52% +11.77% Tuesday -5.55% -6.70% Wednesday -0.62% -5.83% Thursday -3.88% -4.07% Friday +4.17% +6.98%
The value behind discussing near-term returns, however, is about as lasting as a marriage to Elizabeth Taylor, so we'll gracefully divorce ourselves from the idea. As Rick Munarriz said on Thursday, a few months from now (not to mention years from now) are we really going to care, much less remember, what happened to stocks on any particular week (let alone on any particular day)?
Meaningful news is another thing altogether, though, especially if it has implications for your investments. If you're like most investors, you probably have a relatively modest amount of money (not millions) and you're banking many aspects of your future on your investment performance. Therefore, a primary reason that you read the Fool, not surprisingly, is for news that could have implications for your investments. So, do we have such news here?
This week, for our stocks, the answer is: probably. Some news this week was probably quite meaningful.
Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN) preannounced fourth quarter sales of above $650 million. In all of 1998, the company earned $610 million in revenue, so its fourth quarter 1999 results alone blows the top off all of 1998. For 1999, Amazon's revenue totaled about $1.6 billion. One year ago, most people believed that Amazon would break the billion dollar sales barrier in 2000, not 1999, so why did the stock decline on the fourth quarter news?
Some say it declined because losses continued to mount even with the much higher sales, but this isn't, or shouldn't be, a surprise. The company said in mid-1999 that fourth quarter losses would be large due to high marketing costs and investments in distribution and customer service. The company even suggested that the economics of its business wouldn't improve in the fourth quarter, but could instead be less attractive than last year due to high costs. Did everyone forget this little piece of news from late 1999? Not likely.
So, perhaps the stock declined for other reasons. Perhaps the stock declined just because... well, just because it declined. This isn't a circular argument, it is in essence the truth. The stock declined because people sold it. Some sold it because they are thinking nearer term and they may believe the stock rose too high. (Or, some investors probably had near-term expectations that were too high, including the influential Mary Meeker. This serves to demonstrate why we believe that setting exact, near-term estimates is typically silly. You only miss a bar if you give yourself a bar to jump over. The focus should be on the longer-term, big picture, more than on one quarter's results to the dollar.)
Contrary to the stock's decline, Amazon's business continues to grow as well as, or better than, almost everyone expected just nine months ago. Amazon's business is running at a record pace and 2000 promises more of everything -- more customers, more product lines, more long-term opportunities to seize, more sales. And more losses. Maybe higher losses.
People still criticize the company's lack of a profit, and eventually that should be criticized, but not yet. When should it be criticized? On last week's Fool Radio show, CEO Jeff Bezos hinted that companywide profitability isn't a very realistic expectation as long as large, new growth opportunities for Amazon exist. As long as there is land to grab in the e-commerce world, Amazon will spend money to grab it, and therefore, most likely, it will continue to lose money. When large opportunities eventually and finally subside, Amazon's investments will slacken as well. By that time, ideally, the company will have an enormous customer base and an ability to leverage it profitably.
Some people predict that Amazon will be profitable at the end of 2000, or in 2001. Even the company's CEO won't make predictions, though, and if you're a shareholder, I would mentally throw out the predictions you hear and replace them with this one: the company will focus on profitability only when it stops focusing on new growth opportunities.
For now, and probably for the next few years, there is much more opportunity in growth than there is benefit to be had from achieving what would be slim profit margins. Does that make sense? Growth is the trophy now. Seizing opportunities before they fade. Thus, rightly so, the company isn't focused on profitability now; it is focused on growth. It will focus on grabbing opportunities until all large opportunities are seized or subside, and then Amazon will focus on profitability.
The stock of Amgen (NYSE: AMGN) has rocketed as sales of its two blockbuster drugs, Epogen and Neupogen, have risen above expectations this past year. The company is also trading high on hopes for new drugs hitting the market this year.
As many as three new drugs could roll from Amgen's labs in 2000, as this article discusses. We detailed the potential drugs in our buy report in December of 1998 (all our buy reports are available here), and since then the drugs have moved through trials and advanced toward the market place.
As much as we like Amgen now, it is imperative that the company generates new blockbuster drugs sooner rather than later. I'm not as "high" on the long-term potential of Epogen and Neupogen as the article linked above is. Science is advancing quickly enough that Amgen's current blockbusters could face new age (genomic derived) competition before too long. Either way, we wouldn't have bought the two-product company if it didn't have promise in its drug pipeline. This year, we hope to see some promise reach its first fruition.
Celera (NYSE: CRA) jumped on Friday and ended the week near its recent high. The science and information technology company is riding strong on beliefs that it'll have substantial human genome news to share this year, perhaps before summer.
I could go on and talk about eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY) -- what's with its somewhat lingering stock? -- and Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX), which announced another good month of sales, and Excite@Home (Nasdaq: ATHM), which announced a free dial-up Internet service that it'll use to leverage more users onto cable... and on and on.
But, if we hold a stock in the portfolio and there hasn't been major news lately, news that could change our minds on it anytime soon, then it means that we still believe in the company. Generally, if we own it, we still believe in it. Right now, that is the position we're in as we roll into 2000. Whatever this volatile stock market wants to throw at us, we're ready. We own companies that we believe in. We hope to own them longer than Elizabeth Taylor kept most her husbands. (And we wish all the best to Elizabeth T., by the way. I think she's a Fool.)
Check out Notes from a Fool for highlights from the first week of 2000, and visit our daily Fool's Year Resolutions, which will run -- a new one each day -- until the end of January. Have a great weekend!