Riding the AAPL Slingshot

July 7, 2011, 10:58 AM UTC

Apple, as hedge fund managers are well aware, is one stock that always bounces back

Whenever I see a chart like the one at right, which traces the trajectory of Apple’s (AAPL) share price over the past 36 days, I’m reminded of Jason Schwarz’s “Apple: Seven Reasons Shorts Love It,” a supremely cynical view of the stock market that may be the best thing The Street published in all of 2009. The nut of his thesis can be boiled down to two sentences:

“If you can keep a good stock down,” Schwarz wrote, “then you are able to load up for the ride back up. It’s like a slingshot — the harder you pull, the more propulsion you generate.”

Ordinary retail investors who put their savings into Apple because they believed in the company’s fundamentals would do well to bear Schwarz’s words in mind when the stock behaves as it did in the first 20 days of June, dropping more than $32 (9.3%) despite sales, earnings and a balance sheet that is the envy of the tech world.

Apple, as Schwarz reminds us, is the favorite punching bag of the hedge funds and institutions that control more than 70% of its shares. It’s a pretty good bet that the earnings Apple is scheduled to report in less than two weeks will set new records, and savvy fund managers know this. If they were dumping the stock in early June, it’s only because they were planning to snap it back up in advance of Apple’s July 19th earnings report.

Schwarz explained all this in his Dec. 19, 2009 piece. You can read it here. If you don’t want to click through The Street’s version — posted in seven slow-loading gallery pages — you can read, below the fold, the executive summary we posted on Dec. 20.

  1. Apple is the market leader. This one stock has become so important to the market that its action is contagious. This influence makes Apple a prized possession for both the longs and the shorts. Knocking down an easier target like Research In Motion or Citigroup doesn’t generate the same snowball effect.
  2. Apple always bounces back. Over the long run, Apple fundamentals will certainly take the stock higher, but hedge funds want to maximize the ride. Keeping a great stock down allows them to profit from quick predetermined trades rather than being fully invested all the time.
  3. The predictability of Apple reduces a short’s risk. Everyone knows when the next iPod, iPhone,and iMac refreshes will hit. This has turned into a calendar-driven catalyst stock. During the quiet time, the stock is vulnerable.
  4. New media have changed the game. Anybody can say anything and the masses will believe it. The topic of Apple currently dominates this new media. There is no accountability or verification of sources like the old days. In such an environment, hidden agendas can be pushed endlessly without disclosure.
  5. Apple secrecy. As the unparalleled leader in tech innovation, Apple feels that it is necessary to keep future products veiled to all competitors, consumers and investors … Apple has yet to sell a single Tablet, yet hedge funds already have made millions from rumors surrounding the product. The lack of transparency from Apple creates a perfect storm for short-term traders.
  6. Apple innovation. This company is so good that it causes imaginations to run wild. A hedge fund could float a story that Apple is thinking of buying Saturn in order to develop a new brand of Apple cars and people would go nuts … The constant innovation coming out of Apple provides traders with endless material for believable speculation.
  7. Steve Jobs is the visionary of the century. This one man is the single greatest asset in corporate America, which causes Apple stock to trade with a Steve Jobs premium, a variable that the shorts can use as well. Apple’s stock is always vulnerable to losing Jobs.