Although I speak with Money Morning technology guru Michael Robinson almost every day - and share his comments and recommendations with you on a regular basis - it has been some time since we actually engaged in a full-fledged question-and-answer session for your benefit.
Today I'll share that Q&A with you.
In it, Michael - editor of our Nova-X Report and Radical Technology Profits advisories - details his outlook for tech stocks, outlines a risk-management strategy every investor should follow (especially now), and highlights the half-dozen tech stocks that will point you down the path to meaningful wealth.
Michael explains why today's seemingly outrageous valuations can be justified.
Here's an edited transcript of that interview.
William Patalon III (BP): Michael, the Nasdaq Composite Index recently eclipsed the 5,000 level for the first time since the dot-com bust-up of 2000. That brought the gloom-and-doomer crowd out of the woodwork in droves. But you have an interesting take on this. You've said that - while volatility will likely increase in the near term for all stocks - you are more confident than ever for the longer-term investment outlook of Silicon Valley and high technology.
Michael A. Robinson (MAR): That's right. In all the years I've been around Silicon Valley I've never seen so much innovation reaching a point of critical mass all at the same time. A recent research report I read said that, on average, we're seeing roughly $1 billion worth of new tech opportunities coming out per week.
We are well beyond what I call the "Tech Tipping Point." Bear in mind that, back during the whole dot-com saga of 2000, most folks had dial-up Internet. Now we have broadband that is at least 100 times faster. Which gives us Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX), Pandora Media Inc. (NYSE: P), and such Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) services as iTunes and Apple TV.
There were no smartphones, no tablets, and no connected car. Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) was just selling books. There was no such thing as cloud computing. And e-commerce was hardly the threat to brick-and-mortar stores that it is now.
Despite these differences, the stock prices we're seeing for technology firms today remain quite reasonable. The Nasdaq 100 has a forward P/E of 18.75, pretty much in line with the S&P 500's forward valuation of 17.5.
BP: In line - which doesn't reflect the much higher earnings growth you get from technology firms - correct?
MAR: That's right.
BP: And there are other differences, too, aren't there?
MAR: There are, Bill, there are.
Back in 2000, most tech firms didn't pay a dividend. These days - and, in fact, you just shared a report with me on this - a big part of the growth in dividends is coming from the tech sector.
BP: Not to mention the billions in buybacks we're seeing from high-tech companies.
MAR: That's right. And we're seeing all this - the dividends and the buybacks - because tech firms have been generating enormous amounts of cash for years.
BP: You and I talk pretty much every day. So I'm exceptionally aware of your bullish outlook for high-technology companies. In fact, it's a view - a long-term view - that we share. We both believe that, for the first time ever, there's a technology "ecosystem" that's taken shape. And that ecosystem represents a powerful profit generator.
MAR: Absolutely correct, Bill.
BP: So let's explain this to our readers. So we have these "pools of innovation" - specific ones such as the cloud, Internet of Everything (IoE), wearables, Big Data, digital payments and others - each representing standalone growth-and-profit opportunities.
MAR: And big ones, at that.
Actually, that's a great place to start. So before we move onto the whole "ecosystem" concept, let's talk about these "pools of innovation."
We're talking, here, about billions of dollars' worth of growth potential in each of these discrete sectors. I mean, if someone wants proof - you know, numbers - look right at mobile. We're shipping more than a billion smartphones a year, and just the mobile-payments part of the industry is expected to hit $720 billion by 2017 - a tripling in size in roughly five years.
The value of cloud computing is expected to reach $270 billion by the end of this decade. By that time, the Internet of Everything will be worth nearly $1 trillion, and Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) says the profits alone from this sector will hit $14 trillion in the years ahead.
Big Data is expected to be worth $32 billion by 2017. And the year after that, just the MEMs (microelectromechanical systems) slice of the sensor market will be worth $22 billion - having doubled in just six years.
BP: And don't forget semis - semiconductors - which are native to just about everything these days.
MAR: Right. Last year, chip sales set a new record. Total semi sales came in at $335.8 billion in 2014. That's a year-over-year increase of nearly 10% from the year before.
Not bad for a business that's supposed to be "mature."
BP: The difference, of course, is that - for the first time ever - these pools of innovation are converging to create "ignition points" for hyper-growth ....
MAR: And hyper-profits.
BP: That's why this is a time of such remarkable opportunity for investors.
MAR: Yes, it really is a unique point in time. Never before have we been able to look and see so many converging, or overlapping, technology trends. They drive each other. They reinforce each other. And they magnify each other.
It's just such a powerful concept.
BP: You shared a great example with me during one of our calls earlier this week. We dubbed it the "Super Internet." Tell the readers about it, too.
MAR: Okay, sure. Absolutely. Look at the IoE - the Internet of Everything. This "Super Internet" will connect trillions of devices all over the world. That, in turn, will continue to drive demand for semiconductors and sensors needed to make common objects become "intelligent."
BP: A true "ignition point."
MAR: That's right. And what's so exciting is that the semis and sensors are merely the start of this mega-convergence. All those connected devices will create a tidal wave of Big Data to sift through, analyze, make use of, and store. That's more data than individuals can store locally, which will help drive cloud computing. We'll need software to analyze and use the data. And faster computers. And portable storage devices so analysts, scientists, students, and investors can use small slices of that data.
BP: Once it's been ignited, you can see how this becomes a truly self-perpetuating cycle.
MAR: You can, and we're not even finished.
Look at the "connected car" - a topic you, Bill, were way ahead of the curve in telling your subscribers about. That's another "ecosystem" altogether. We're selling more than 16 million cars and light-duty trucks a year in the United States alone. Starting in 2018, all of them will have backup cameras.
BP: Which is great for a company like Ambarella Inc. (Nasdaq: AMBA).
MAR: Absolutely. And the convergences - the "ignition points" - don't end there. Not by a long shot. Millions of vehicles will also have lane-assist, collision-avoidance, self-parking and self-braking technologies - driving demand for sensors, semiconductors, and software. These cars and trucks will come equipped with de facto tablets and integrate to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, again creating more demand for cloud storage and retrieval and setting up even more Big Data flows.
BP: So how does the investor derive maximum benefit from what clearly is a major, massed profit opportunity? I mean, we know that the "trick" - and I hate to use that term - is to get into the long run. To do that, you need to avoid near-term miscues, which become so much easier to make when markets are volatile.
MAR: That's right. Yes, we will have downturns in the market, as we always do, but this is no time to sit on the sidelines. On the other hand, you can't just throw caution to the wind.
BP: For markets like this one - any, in fact - you have a three-tiered strategy for risk management and maximum profit. Could you talk about that? Let's start with how you manage risk when buying stocks in an environment like this - the so-called "Cowboy Split."
MAR: The split you're talking about - and which your subscribers have used to their advantage - involves making staggered entries on stocks that we believe have a lot of upside... but that could face some near-term downside risk due to market volatility. The strategy works very well in a choppy - but up-trending - market like the one we're dealing with right now.
You start by buying a portion at market. Then you put in what's called a "lowball limit order" - meaning, for instance, that you buy another "tranche" when the price falls by say 20% or so.
Doing this allows you to buy on the dips in a disciplined, systematic way. You avoid getting stopped out of a potential big winner and can really bolster your gains. It's not unusual for the gains on the discounted portion to be double those of that first entry.
BP: The second part of your risk-management strategy involves your willingness to take profits. In strong bull markets, I know you use something called the "free-trade" strategy. But in more uncertain markets like this one - which we've referred to as "Moneyball Markets," in homage to the Oscar-nominated baseball flick we both like - you pull the trigger on profitable trades a bit more quickly. Explain why.
MAR: This all goes back to the portfolio-management tools we discussed a moment ago.
I have a standing rule I call the "free trade." Whenever a stock has gains of 100%, you should sell at least a portion of it. If you were to sell half, you'd have a "free trade," because you recoup all your original investment and are then playing on the house's money.
But in choppy markets like we have today, I advocate taking smaller gains along the way. These days, I've been known to take some gains off the table at the 25% or 30% mark.
BP: Especially when those gains come quickly - as in days or weeks after first placing the trade.
MAR: That's right, Bill. Recently, in my Nova-X Report, we took gains on one stock that was up 35% and another that was up about 45%. No, these aren't "free trades," but they're still market-crushing gains that we've protected from volatility.
BP: Okay, the final piece of this a defined risk-management technique that's designed to cut losses short, while ensuring that, with profitable trades, you keep at least some of that profit, should the stock reverse course after a gain.
MAR: What you're referring to here, of course, is the "trailing stop."
This tool lets you cut losses short and lock in gains - kind of on autopilot.
Now, I realize you use a 25% "stop" in Private Briefing. In my advisories, I typically set a stop 20% below our purchase price. And that "stop" moves up as the stock surges, in essence "trailing" the stock as it moves higher.
BP: Run a quick example to show how it works.
MAR: Sure thing, Bill. For instance, if your stock is up 20%, set the stop at your entry. You'd lose some profits but walk away with all your original capital. If you're up 40%, set it so you make 20% no matter what happens, and so forth.
BP: At this point, are you concerned about a correction? If so, how concerned? What would it look like, and how would you play it?
MAR: Look, I believe we are in the midst of a generational bull market, especially for tech. But we're not immune from the laws of finance.
At some point in every bull market, we get a correction. It's not only expected, it's healthy. It shakes out the weak money, the speculation - and gets investors more sharply focused on meaningful value creation. It's kind of like clearing out dead vegetation so the next forest fire isn't as severe.
The truth is no one at this point knows exactly what the correction will look like in terms of speed, depth and duration. But my general plan is to look for bargains.
About the Author
Before he moved into the investment-research business in 2005, William (Bill) Patalon III spent 22 years as an award-winning financial reporter, columnist, and editor. Today he is the Executive Editor and Senior Research Analyst for Money Morning at Money Map Press.