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HBX Business Blog

Is Holiday Cheer Driving the Market? Not Necessarily

Posted by Brian Misamore on December 8, 2016 at 9:21 AM


Because financial valuation is always forward-looking, today's market prices should incorporate all information about a company's performance - including expectations of future performance. As a result, anyone looking to make money on an individual stock (or write a compelling blog post) needs to look for surprises - times when reality over- or underperformed expectations.

So far, this holiday season seems to be off to a roaring start. Online sales on Cyber Monday hit a record $3.45 billion this year, and online sales on Black Friday topped $3 billion for the first time. UPS CEO David Abney reported to Bloomberg on November 28 that he expected 14% higher shipping volume this year than last year.

So, when researching this holiday blog post, I found several articles speaking glowingly about the stocks of UPS and FedEx, driven by this huge demand. So far, in 2016, UPS is up 20% and FedEx is up 30%, they said, boldly.

It makes sense, and it makes a compelling story. But is is true? The market is supposed to incorporate all information - was the market really surprised that this holiday season was good?

Actually, it turns out, the market has been relatively unimpressed by online sales this season. For example, Amazon's stock fell 3.79% between Black Friday and the end of the month of November, while the overall market (as represented by the S&P 500 index) only fell 0.27%. That suggests online sales under-performed expectations.

How about UPS and FedEx? Well, UPS went up 0.21% between Black Friday and November 30, and FedEx is up 0.87% in the same timeframe. Most of this growth begins Tuesday, November 29 - so clearly, Cyber Monday sales made a difference, but these numbers aren't exactly the 20% and 30% those articles were referencing.

Turns out, UPS is up this year mostly because they raised their dividend in May, turned in reliably growing performance all year, and then announced the acquisition of Marken on November 7, a life sciences supply chain company that will open up new business opportunities for them. FedEx's story is much the same - it beat market expectations with its quarterly earnings in March and September, seeing large price jumps at those times. Compared to the effects these events had on stock prices, both companies' end-of-November performance barely registers.

No one wants to write a story about how stock performance largely comes down to solid operations and good business models - it's so much flashier and exciting to talk about holiday sales and shopping events. But the market has thousands and thousands of analysts and investors trying to guess what those sales will be - its unlikely their consensus will be too far away from the truth.

Because the market is always trying to value the infinite future, long-term operational performance will always cause larger price movements than one-time events, and even surprises can leave investors unimpressed if they don't also change opinions about the company's future as a whole.

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About the Author

Brian is a member of the HBX Course Delivery Team and is currently working on the new Leading with Finance course for the HBX platform. He is a veteran of the United States submarine force and has a background in the insurance industry. He holds an MBA from McGill University in Montreal.

Topics: HBX Insights, HBX Finance