Business & Real Estate

Don’t let the debt ceiling confuse you

Stocks are up more than 3 percent since the first of the year. That’s a reflection of the good things anticipated for 2013 and a strong finish for the market in 2012. However, unless the debt ceiling is raised, the U.S. will run out of cash sometime before the middle of March. The “fiscal cliff” didn’t move stocks much, but running out of cash will impact many portfolios.

The question for investors is whether the debt-ceiling debate demands a closer look at their portfolios. Several analysts think federal spending cuts should please investors, but other government actions could ignite a recession and create a negative environment for stocks.

For now, the comfortable play would be to short some stocks to lessen the fall. It is not a good time to buy stocks until we see where Washington intends to go.

In mid-December, the Federal Reserve announced it would maintain near-zero interest for as long as the unemployment rate remains above 6.5 percent and continue to add $45 billion worth of long-term Treasury purchasing in addition to the $40 billion in mortgage securities it buys monthly.

The Fed is helping the market go smoothly and keep stocks at a fair value, but it can’t continue. So, unless we have a 10 percent pullback from present values, just sit back and watch the outcome of the debt-ceiling fight for a buying opportunity.

Many Town Crier “50” stocks experienced changes last week. News from two local companies follows.

•¬†eBay Inc. (EBAY; $54.05), the online auction company, reported quarterly earnings last week. They were in line with analysts’ expectations that predicted eBay’s best year but fell short of the company’s estimates.

Looking ahead, the San Jose-based online marketplace, with PayPal, its payment unit helping, beat expectations. Net income fell to $751 million, or 57 cents per share, from $1.98 billion, or $1.51 a share. The stock price fell along with the estimates but bounced back sharply. A one-time gain a year ago from the sale of Skype accounted for the loss reduction.

eBay was founded in 1995, when buying merchandise online was not widespread. Today, online shopping has become an easy alternative for retail consumers who buy from their tablets or smartphones, making companies like eBay a good investment.

eBay projects earnings for the first quarter to fall short 60-62 cents per share. Analysts expect earnings per share of 63 cents on revenue of $3.8 billion. In a cautious forecast for 2013, eBay expects to earn $2.70 to $2.75 per share.

Apple Inc. (AAPL; $499.05), with shares off 30 percent from its $700 highs, is beginning to feel some pain. Investors were fretting over Apple’s securing enough components to meet the demand for iPhones. Now the fears of imbalance have flipped, with Apple cutting orders for iPhone components, sending stock to its lowest point since February 2012.

The resolution should be apparent when Apple releases its first-quarter 2013 earnings this week. Advance estimates expect revenue of $52 billion and diluted earnings per share of approximately $11.75 for the quarter.

It’s too early to tell why Apple shares have fallen 28 percent from September highs. Word on the street is that people are buying Samsung Galaxy S4s, and every day another executive leaves the company. The earnings announcement may answer the question: Could Apple shares be snake-bitten?

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