At Tier 1 Investments, a Motley Fool Real-Money Portfolio, I seek out and invest in elite businesses. These include companies with the most valuable brands, best management, superior products and services, and strongest competitive advantages. It's an investment philosophy that has handily out-performed the market, with Tier 1 earning a time-weighted return of 91.84% since inception on Sep. 1, 2011, compared to the S&P 500's 74.42% return during that time.
Back in October 2011, I chose Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) to be Tier 1's first holding, and a month later I added to my position. At the time, I felt that no company fit the description of a Tier 1 enterprise better than Apple, as the company had the world's most valuable brand, products that consistently ranked at the top of the list in terms of capabilities and customer satisfaction, a fortress-like balance sheet, tremendous cash-generation ability, and a renowned culture of innovation. That all remains true today.
More recently, in March of this year, I increased Tier 1's ability to profit alongside Apple via a written put position. With Apple's share price rising sharply since that time, we can capture more than 92% of the potential profit on the position by closing our option trade today.
You may be asking why I would close the position now, with Apple's shares trading above $99 and the split-adjusted strike price for the trade at about $78 per share. If we simply hold the position to its Jan. 17, 2015, expiration date, it's likely that the written puts could expire worthless and Tier 1 could therefore earn the full 100% of option premium. While that's true, the risk/reward scenario at this point is much less favorable than when I initiated the position. The actual dollar amount of the premium left to be earned is only about $39 , compared to nearly $550 when I wrote the written put recommendation. On a look through basis, total capital at risk is $5,500. The $39 therefore represents a less than 1% potential return over the early 4 months until expiration.
We can do better.
When I initiated this written put positon in March, Apple's shares were down more than 20% from their all-time highs as skeptics questioned whether the company could continue to innovate. The Apple bears argued that Apple's days of strong growth were long gone, and that with competition clawing at its margins, continued earnings growth would be extremely challenging for the once mighty Apple. Many of these bears also said that without Steve Jobs at the helm, the days of Apple disrupting entire industries with game-changing new products were over, and, at best, all Apple fans could hope for was a monotony of "evolutionary" product iterations.
Tier 1 had a different take.
I argued that the future for Apple was far brighter than the bears would have you believe, and that the market appeared to be undervaluing Apple's growth potential. Apple's third-quarter results gave evidence of this, with net income rising 12% due largely to expectation-topping gross margin of 39.4%, helping to assuage fears that competition was eating away at Apple's profitability. Even better, earnings-per-share, aided by Apple's massive share buyback program, surged 20% -- showing that Apple's days of solid growth are far from over.
I also stated that Apple appeared set to unwrap several very interesting products and services, including some potential game-changers such as the Apple Watch and a new payments service. Just a few weeks ago, on Sep. 9, Apple did indeed unveil these exciting new innovations.
Finally, I explained that if Apple's stock was a high-flying market darling, I might be more concerned about the bear argument. But that was far from the case. At the time I initiated the written put position, Apple's price-to-earnings ratio of 13 represented about a 30% discount to the P/E of the S&P 500. Said another way, the market was assigning Apple a P/E multiple significantly less than the average S&P 500 company. But, I argued, "with the No. 1 brand in the world (recently valued at $104.6 billion by brand identity firm Brand Finance), nearly $160 billion in cash on its fortress-like balance sheet, $45 billion in annual free cash flow, returns on equity of 29%, 28% operating margins, and 21% net margins – Apple was anything but average."
Five months later, it appears that the market now agrees with us, with Apple once again trading near its all-time highs.
The challenge, however, is that Apple is no longer the bargain it was back in March. That is another reason why I will be closing Tier 1's written put positon in Apple (though not until at least 24 hours after this article is published -- standard operating procedure for The Motley Fool's Real-Money Stock Picks program that's designed to give Fools the opportunity to buy ahead of us should they so choose).
Yet, I still see value in Apple's shares. The question now is how best to capture that value. Should we write more puts? Maybe utilize a bull call spread? Or maybe the best option is simply to buy shares in order to receive Apple's fast-growing dividend payments and reduce the added burden of timing related to an option trade. I'll be making my decision soon, but I'd love to hear what you think, so please share your thoughts in the comments section below. And if you'd like to be one of the first to know what Tier 1's next Apple investment will be, and receive all of our new buy and sell alerts, you can connect with us on Twitter @Tier1Investor.
The Motley Fool recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.