MONEY stocks

Could Another Sell-Off Be Lurking This Week?

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange October 15, 2014.
Brendan McDermid—Reuters

Last week's tumultuous week in the stock market sets the stage for yet more nervousness and hand-wringing as a fresh set of earnings and economic data are due to be released.

When Wall Street opens for business on Monday morning, will bad news about the global economy be bad news for stocks?

That was the case for most of last week, when the equity market was hit with a frightening sell-off that reminded investors of the bad old days of the financial crisis.

^INDU Chart

^INDU data by YCharts

Or will bad news turn out to be good news for the market, as was the case on Friday, when the Dow Jones industrial average soared more than 260 points?

^INDU Chart

^INDU data by YCharts

Friday’s dramatic rebound in stock prices reflected two forces that are likely to move the market in the coming days.

Keep an Eye on the Fed

At the end of this month, the Federal Reserve is slated to end its stimulative bond-buying program known as quantitative easing.

Investors are naturally nervous about this development, as quantitive easing, or QE, has been credited for the strength and length of what is now a five-and-a-half-year-old bull market. As many market observers have noted, Wall Street is about to lose a major psychological crutch.

Remember that when the Fed ended its prior two rounds of quantitative easing — in 2010 and 2011 — stocks sold off fairly quickly:

After QE round 1, which ended March 31, 2010:
^SPX Chart

^SPX data by YCharts

After QE round 2, which ended on June 30, 2011:
^SPX Chart

^SPX data by YCharts

But late last week, when the market was in the throes of a selloff, St. Louis Fed president James Bullard said in a Bloomberg TV interview that “we could go on pause on the taper at this juncture and wait until we see how the data shakes out into December.”

In other words, a member of the Federal Open Market Committee that sets the nation’s interest rate policy is openly mulling whether the Fed should postpone ending QE in light of recent market volatility.

Bullard’s remarks on Thursday were enough to give the markets a lift in the last two days of the week. And if there are more signs of a major global economic slowdown, including a possible recession in Europe and Japan, then the Fed may have to think twice about how — and how soon — it ends its stimulus efforts.

This week, investors will want to see if more members of the FOMC sound similar conciliatory notes of extending QE. So far, no one else has. Boston Fed president Eric Rosengren, a major defender of QE, said on Friday that he does not expect the Fed to extend the program at this juncture.

What else should investors look for?

  • Wednesday’s inflation report from the Department of Labor. If the global economic slowdown is starting to impact the U.S., we will start to see it in the form of lower prices for U.S. consumers.
  • Thursday’s report on the index of leading economic indicators from the Conference Board. The LEI is forward-looking barometer of economic trends, so if the global slowdown is likely to affect the U.S. in the coming months, this index should offer clues.

Keep an Eye on Earnings

Last week’s bloody selloff was peppered by major earnings disappointments on Wall Street. For instance, there was Netflix, which reported that subscriber growth wasn’t as strong as expected and saw its stock lose more than a quarter of its value on Wednesday. Google also disappointed Wall Street on earnings and revenue growth, as well as on paid clicks on ad links.

The idea is that if Wall Street is about to lose its QE crutch, it will have to fall back on the fundamentals — so corporate profit reports will have to look good.

On Friday, a slew of companies led by General Electric and Honeywell announced better-than-expected results, which helped drive stocks higher at the end of the week.

Yet the mood on Wall Street regarding earnings is somewhat pessimistic. The strengthening U.S. dollar, brought about by the global economic slowdown, is expected to crimp global profits for U.S. exporters.

This week, several high-profile earnings announcements are due to be released. Here are the major ones to look for:

  • On Monday, Apple is due to report its results after the closing bell. Everything Apple reports is news these days.
  • On Tuesday, Coca-Cola will reports its results before the market opens. No company is as exposed to the global economy as Coke is.
  • On Wednesday, Boeing is set to reveal its earnings before the market opens. The global slowdown is expected to hurt U.S. exporters, and Boeing could be a sign of how bad things have become.
  • On Thursday, Amazon.com will report after the bell. Amazon isn’t just a bellwether of the tech economy, it is now a key gauge of the health of the U.S. consumer.
MONEY stocks

If This Is the Start of a Bear Market, Blame Alibaba

There's a possibility that the recent selloff morphs into a real downturn — and Alibaba's gaudy IPO may have marked the market's top.

It’s impossible to say if the recent plunge in the market is the start of a full-on downturn, or if it’s just a bout of short-term angst.

But if this does turn out to be an an official bear market, defined as a sustained drop of 20% or more, you can blame the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba and its celebrated initial public offering on Sept. 19.

That’s what famed bond fund manager Jeffrey Gundlach told CNBC earlier this week. Indeed, since Alibaba went public about a month ago, the broad market has lost almost all of its gains since the start of the year. And Alibaba itself has lost nearly 10% of its value.

BABA Chart

BABA data by YCharts

But it’s also what history says.

Bull markets are born at a time of fear, but as they mature, greed sets in. And at the top of the market, investors try to get their mitts on one last pot of gold.

That’s why many of history’s biggest downturns coincided with celebrated IPOs that exemplified the themes of the prior bull market.

You’ll recall, for instance, that in the summer of 2007, just as the financial crisis was getting going — and just months before the start of the 2007-2009 bear market — the private equity and financial services firm Blackstone Group went public … and proceeded to get hammered.

^SPX Chart

^SPX data by YCharts

And before that, in April 2000, AT&T Wireless went public just days after the market peaked on March 24, 2000.

In Alibaba’s case, the company exemplified the hot themes that had been driving the five-and-a-half-year-old bull market. That is, exposure to technology, mobile, social media, and China.

But all of that may prove to have been too much of a good thing.

MONEY stocks

Here’s the Deeply Depressing News About This Market

A trader watches the screen at his terminal on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York October 15, 2014.
Lucas Jackson—Reuters

Sadly, there may be no safe havens this time. Stock investors typically turn to dividend payers and "low-volatility" stocks in rocky times. But those investments have gotten pricey.

When the stock market gets choppy, as it is now—the Dow Jones industrial average plunged by triple digits again on Wednesday — equity investors tend to set sail for calmer waters.

Historically, that’s led them to a few sheltered corners of the market.

First, there are high-yielding stocks, where payouts to shareholders serve as a cushion when stock prices crater. Dividend-paying stocks don’t prevent losses altogether—this is the stock market after all—but during the 2008 financial crisis, for instance, when the S&P 500 S&P 500 INDEX SPX 0.7053% lost 37% of its value, the SPDR S&P 500 Dividend ETF SPDR SERIES TRUST DIVIDEND ETF SDY 0.6975% fell just 23%.

Investors also look for safety in so-called low-volatility stocks. These are shares of “steady Eddie” companies, often found in stable but slow-growing and boring businesses, that usually gain less than the broad market during upturns but lose less in downturns. Among the biggest holdings of the PowerShares S&P 500 Low Volatility ETF POWERSHARES ETF II S&P 500 LOW VOLATILITY PORT SPLV 0.7608% , for example, are Coca-Cola THE COCA COLA CO. KO 0.4161% and Warren Buffett’s insurance and holding company Berkshire Hathaway .

History says that both dividend payers and low-volatility stocks not only provide ballast in turbulent times but actually outperform the broad market over the long run.

Normally, tilting your portfolio toward either of these types of stocks would make sense if you’re worried that the recent jump in volatility — as seen below in the CBOE VIX “fear” index — is a sign of worse things to come.

^VIX Chart

^VIX data by YCharts

Trouble is, nervous investors jumped the gun and bid up shares of dividend payers and “low-vol” investments before volatility actually manifested in the economy. Indeed, from 2009 to the start of this year, dividend investing proved to be one of the easiest ways to beat the market:

^SPX Chart

^SPX data by YCharts

In other words, these two conservative and time-tested ways to stay in stocks are now expensive on a relative basis. And recent history tells us that buying an overvalued stock is fraught with risk.

Take dividend payers. They typically sport lower price/earnings (P/E) ratios than the broad market because high-yielders tend not to grow that fast. (That’s why they return dividends to shareholders in the first place.) But these days the average P/E for stocks in the SPDR S&P 500 Dividend ETF is 18.3, based on projected future corporate earnings. By comparison, the average stock in the broad market trades at a P/E of 17.

Similarly, the average holding in the PowerShares S&P 500 Low Volatility ETF trades at a higher-than-average P/E ratio of 18.

The problem with these frothy prices is that they detract from the stability that these types of stocks normally provide. Feifei Li, head of research at Research Affiliates (a major proponent of low-volatility investing), published some thoughts last year about rising prices and valuations in the low vol space. Li noted:

Empirical evidence demonstrates that low volatility strategies offer higher-than-market returns and considerably lower risks… Not surprisingly, these desirable performance characteristics have attracted many players to the market … The fast pace of growth raises the question: Does the rapid flow into this space erode the strategy’s effectiveness in delivering attractive risk-adjusted returns? This is a legitimate concern.

Does this mean you should avoid low-vol stocks and dividend payers altogether? No, but it will take more work to find the handful of examples of these types of stocks that are undervalued and attractively priced.

Hey, no one said avoiding a downturn — while remaining in the stock market — would be easy.

MONEY stocks

Stocks Plunge Wednesday on Global Economic Fears

141015_INV_Stock_1
Spencer Platt—Getty Images

Volatility is back with vengeance, and it's being felt throughout the financial markets.

Updated: 4:30 pm

Volatility is back with a vengeance on Wall Street.

The Dow Jones industrial average plunged around 450 points on Wednesday afternoon before recovering to close at 175 points down, marking the sixth day in October that the stock market has suffered triple-digit losses. The Dow, which had been trading as high as 17,145 at the end of September, sank to below 15,900 before ending the day at 16,141.

^DJI Chart

^DJI data by YCharts

This capped off the worst three-day sell off for the broad market since 2011.

Small-company stocks — considered the market’s canary in the coal mine, since they’re more easily rattled by changes in the economy due to their size — sank around 1% on Wednesday and are in an official correction, defined as a 10% drop in value over an extended period. Micro-cap stocks, the tiniest sub-set of small stocks, also fell and they’re only a few percentage points off from an official bear market, or a 20% decline.

Why?

Wall Street is having flashbacks to the bad old days in the aftermath of the global financial panic, when there were real concerns that the global economy might slip back into a deflationary and recessionary spiral.

Right now, the big worry is that Europe and Japan will soon suffer their third recessions in the past six years. Policymakers in both countries are scrambling to find ways to jumpstart growth, yet their central banks are running out of ammunition.

Meanwhile China, once viewed as the engine driving global growth, has been slowing noticeably in recent quarters and can‘t find a way to reaccelerate, as it works through its own housing and financial crisis.

“While domestic growth is robust, slowing economies abroad have the potential to upset the recovery,” notes Jack Ablin, chief investment officer for BMO Private Bank.

Those global growth concerns are now being reflected in two troubling trends.

First, there’s the plunge in crude oil prices. While a barrel of crude oil traded above $100 a barrel as recently as this summer, prices fell to around $81 a barrel on Wednesday morning. Falling oil prices are often viewed as a good thing — since lower energy costs free up households and businesses to spend on other things. Yet the fact is, people aren’t necessarily spending that money on other things.

Michael Gapen, chief U.S. economist for Barclays Capital, noted that U.S. retail sales fell 0.3% in September. “The main downside surprise in this report,” he said, came in core retail sales — which strips out volatile food an energy prices — fell 0.2%. He said that was “against our expectation for a four-tenths rise.”

Moreover, the price of oil sometimes doesn’t cause good things so much as it reflects bad things already in the economy.

Right now, investors may be asking: “Is this the moment of truth when lower oil is signaling lower demand?” says Neal Dihora, an analyst with Morningstar.

Similarly, fears over the global economy tends to drive investors into slow-growing but safe assets, like Treasury bonds. And this morning, the yield on the 10-year Treasury fell below the 2% threshold for the first time since June 2013, a worrisome trend as MONEY’s Pat Regnier points out.

Even more troubling is the possibility that the market is telling us that the financial crisis may not be squarely in the rear view mirror.

BMO’s Ablin noted:

“Decades of debt accumulation touched off the 2008 financial crisis and critics argue that the solution, quantitative easing programs, simply shifted borrowing from the private sector to the public sector. The Fed’s primary lever since the Greenspan years, boosting asset prices and enticing borrowing by lowering interest rates, is no longer working now that short-term rates are effectively zero. Scarred by the financial meltdown and an underwater mortgage, households have had a change of heart and are now more interested in reducing debt.”

And as investors are keenly aware, reducing debt doesn’t help stimulate economic activity.

MONEY stocks

5 Ways To Tell If There’s More Trouble Ahead for Stocks

Is Monday's triple-digit loss the start of something worse — like a bear market? Here are five things to watch for in the coming days and weeks.

On Monday, the Dow Jones industrial average sank more than 223 points, marking the fifth straight day of triple-digit moves in the closely watched benchmark.

Technically, this is just a “pullback,” which is loosely defined as a drop of around 5%.

^SPX Chart

^SPX data by YCharts

The S&P 500 index has yet to reach a correction, or a 10% plunge. And the broad market is nowhere close to bear market territory, which is a sustained 20% decline in stock prices.

Still, as MONEY recently pointed out, this bull market is starting to show its age. So it’s hard not to wonder if a bear is lurking.

If you’re worried there are more troubled days ahead for equities, here are five things to watch for in the coming days and weeks:

1) Are companies reporting disappointing earnings results?

“I’d be listening to and watching third-quarter earnings reports,” says Liz Ann Sonders, chief investment strategist at the brokerage Charles Schwab.

Why? First, some companies face a new headwind in the form of the stronger dollar. While the strengthening U.S. currency is a sign of global confidence in the U.S. economy, it creates problems for American businesses. A mighty dollar makes it harder for U.S. exporters to sell their goods competitively overseas, which could crimp corporate earnings growth.

Robert Landry, a portfolio manager for USAA, put it this way:

We’re paying attention to whether companies beat, meet or fall short of revenue and earnings estimates. According to FactSet, average sales growth for the S&P 500 is expected to be 3.6% year-over-year and profit growth at 4.6%. The latter number is roughly half of where expectations stood back in late June.

What’s more, many investors think the stock market — at least prior to this sell off — was getting ahead of itself this year. Indeed, the price/earnings ratio (a common measure used to gauge market valuations) for the S&P 500 index had shot up higher than 18, based on the past 12 months of profits. That’s compared to an historic average of around 15. To justify those higher-than-average P/E ratios, investors want to see higher-than-expected earnings growth rates. The volatility of recent days suggests a worry that the bar’s been set too high.

2) Are commodity prices sliding?

The selloff in blue chip stocks recently has “coincided with mounting evidence of a global economic slowdown,” says Edward Yardeni, president and chief investment strategist at Yardeni Research.

Indeed, the reason why the dollar has been strengthening in the first place is that while the U.S. economy has been improving, Europe and Japan are both perilously close to slipping back into recession — for the third time since the start of the global financial panic.

Yardeni adds that global slowdown fears have grown in recent days as industrial commodity prices, including crude oil, have dropped sharply. (This isn’t a big surprise: Slower-than-expected growth in Europe, China and Japan has led to weaker demand for things like steel, copper and oil.)

David Kelly, chief global strategist for J.P. Morgan Funds, notes that Europe is set to release industrial production figures for August this week, along with data on inflation trends. If there’s even a whiff of deflation in the Eurozone — led by tumbling commodity prices — expect another bout of handwringing on Wall Street.

3) Are small stocks getting mauled?
While investors typically pay more attention to large blue-chip stocks, shares of smaller companies can be a harbinger of things to come for the broad market. Why? Because of their size, tiny stocks tend to be more volatile in general and the underlying companies are more easily rattled by changes in the economy.

The bad news is, the market’s tiniest publicly traded companies are already in a correction, as measured by the Russell Micro-cap Index. And should they slide into an official bear — which could be just days away — things could get really dicey on Wall Street.

^RTM Chart

^RTM data by Charts

Sam Stovall, U.S. equity strategist for S&P Capital IQ, noted that there have been 10 calendar years that small stocks have declined in price since 1979. “Of those 10 times,” he said, nine of the S&P 500’s 10 annual returns were 3.5% or less, and six of the 10 years were negative.” What’s more, for all 10 observations, “the S&P 500 posted an average annual price decline of 4.6%,” he said.

4) How is the Nasdaq composite index holding up?

Another canary in the coalmine for the broad market, according to market observers, is the Nasdaq composite index. Relative to S&P 500 or the Dow, the Nasdaq tends to be made up of slightly smaller, faster-growing and economically sensitive companies. In fact, technology stocks still make up around 45% of the index.

This is why in years when stocks slip, the Nasdaq tends to skid further. This happened in 1994, 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2008.

So far this year, the Nasdaq is close to entering into a correction. Should the Nasdaq’s 8% loss expand to 10% or more, look for more volatility in the S&P and Dow.

^IXIC Chart

^IXIC data by Charts

5) Is China’s economy growing less than 7%?

Continuing worries about China have contributed to the recent sell off in stocks. China’s economy, which had been growing as fast as 9% in 2012, slowed to 7.5% in the second quarter. That figure is expected to fall even further, to 7.3% in the third quarter. Some economists, in fact, are bracing for 7% growth or below.

Why is this important?

Brian Jackson, China economist for IHS Global Insight, notes that China’s leaders “signaled somewhere between 7% and 7.2% as a ‘bottom line’ for growth to meet job creation needs; IHS estimates that 7.2% is necessary to generate the roughly 13 million jobs annually to satisfy new job market entrants.”

Should GDP growth slip below 7%, policymakers in China may have start thinking outside the box. And Wall Street hates the unexpected — especially when it comes to governments and economic policy.

MONEY stock market

7 Years Later, Is the Bear Stalking Again?

Grizzly Bear
Scott Markewitz—GalleryStock

While the start of the 2007-2009 bear market now seems a lifetime away, there are a number of similarities between this market and that one that makes it hard to forget.

Exactly seven years ago today, the stock market fell into the worst bear market this side of the Great Depression.

The crash, which unfolded from Oct. 9, 2007 to March 9, 2009, obliterated more than half of the total value of the U.S. stock market and threatened the very existence of iconic companies from General Motors to Merrill Lynch.

Of course, all of this seems like ancient history now that the stock market has fully recovered — and then some.

^SPX Chart

^SPX data by YCharts

After the fourth-longest bull market in history, the Dow Jones industrial average and the S&P 500 are both near all-time highs. The housing market is slowly but surely recovering. And the U.S. economy has recently been growing at an annual rate of 4.6%.

Sounds like a totally different scene than seven years ago, when the economy was about to slip into a recession, the housing market was melting down, and the global financial panic was at full tilt.

Yet if you start digging into the details, there are a number of glaring similarities between today’s market and where Wall Street was on this fateful day seven years ago.

The bull market is aging. The stock market rally was an older-than-average five years old on Oct. 9, 2007. On Oct. 9, 2014, the bull is an even-older-than-average five and a half years old.

The market is starting to look its age. One way to tell if a bull is losing steam is to see how many stocks are actually participating in the rally. In 2007, the percent of companies in the S&P 1500 total stock market index that were outperforming the broad market fell to a lower-than-average 35%. Today, it’s even lower at 30%.

The market is pricey. The price/earnings ratio for the S&P 500, based on projected corporate profits, stood at 15.2 on Oct. 9, 2007. Today, that P/E ratio is an even-higher-than-average 16.2.

The market is pricey, part 2. There’s another way to measure the market’s P/E, using 10 years of average profits. In October 2007, the S&P 500’s so-called Shiller P/E stood at 27. That marked one of only four sustained periods in history where this P/E ratio climbed and remained above 25. Today, the market’s Shiller P/E is at 26.

Since 1926, whenever this measure has exceeded 25, the average inflation-adjusted annual return for stocks has been a mere 0.5% over the subsequent decade. By contrast, the historic annual real return for stocks is closer to 7%.

Greed is back. Seven years ago, merger & acquisition activity in the U.S. hit a record high, as risk-taking returned to Wall Street. Today, M&A activity, based on the total number of deals, is on pace to be even higher.

Confidence is back. When company executives are confident that the market isn’t fully appreciating the strength of their business, they initiate stock buybacks of their company’s shares, on the theory that their own stock represents a good value. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that stock buybacks totaled $338 billion in the first half of this year. That marked the highest level of activity in any six-month period since 2007.

Risk-taking is back. You know investors are getting aggressive when they’re willing to use borrowed money to make their bets. The last times margin loan debt as a percentage of GDP exceeded 2.5% were in 2000 and 2007. Well, today, it’s back above this threshold.

Does this mean that the bull market is about to end? Not necessarily. These are signs of an aging bull, not necessarily precise predictors of when the market is about to turn. Still, after growing accustomed to seeing stocks go up and up and up for several years, it’s time to reflect on how scary the market can be when investors grow complacent.

MONEY Airline Stocks

Airline Stocks Are Sinking—and Ebola Is Only Partly to Blame

Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
Assurances about Ebola safety from CDC Director Tom Frieden apparently fell on deaf ears on Wall Street. Tami Chappell—Reuters

Airline stocks got hammered this morning after the first official case of Ebola was confirmed in a Texas patient. But calm down: Investors have a long history of overreacting to deadly diseases.

Shares of major U.S. airlines descended about 4% Wednesday morning, and investors are blaming Ebola.

The CDC and Texas Health Department confirmed the first official diagnosis of Ebola in the U.S., in a man who had traveled to Dallas from Liberia.

CDC Director Tom Frieden was quick to point out that “there’s all the difference in the world between the U.S. and parts of Africa where Ebola is spreading. The United States has a strong health care system and public health professionals who will make sure this case does not threaten our communities.”

Those assurances apparently fell on deaf ears on Wall Street, where investors pushed the stocks of major carriers such as United Airlines UNITED CONTINENTAL HLDG. UAL 0.4047% , American Airlines AMERICAN AIRLINES GROUP INC AAL 3.4823% , and Delta DELTA AIR LINES INC. DAL 4.0084% lower in early morning trading.

UAL Price Chart

UAL Price data by YCharts

Anytime diseases arise that could restrict air travel — in this case, to and from various parts of West Africa — airline shares are among the first to see a reaction.

Last year, for instance, global airline stocks took a tumble on worries of the spread of bird flu. Before that, in early 2009, the outbreak of swine flu pushed airline stocks to double-digit losses amid concern that the disease might curtail travel at a time when the economy was already faltering due to the global financial crisis. And before that, in 2003, the first signs of SARS drove airline stocks lower on fears that international travel — in particular to and from Asia — would be hurt.

In this case, though, even airlines that do not travel in West Africa — for instance, Southwest Airlines SOUTHWEST AIRLINES CO. LUV 1.8647% — have been hit.

LUV Price Chart

LUV Price data by YCharts

To be sure, Southwest is headquartered in Dallas, which is where the first U.S. Ebola case was reported. But the fact that an airline like Southwest is being affected makes Morningstar analyst Neal Dihora think that “this might be about something else.”

That something might have to do with oil prices. Oil prices have fallen recently to below $100 a barrel. This is generally good news for airline stocks, since that means a major input cost is headed lower, Dihora says.

But there comes a time in every oil cycle, he points out, where investors wonder if oil prices are headed lower for a reason — as in, is this a sign of further troubles for the global economy?

It’s too soon to say if that’s the case. Many observers are currently chalking up falling oil prices to the strengthening dollar.

But for the moment, it seems that this worry about the global economy is what’s really driving the sector — and the emotional reaction to Ebola only compounded the situation.

MONEY tech stocks

5 Winners and 5 Losers of the Alibaba IPO

Alibaba founder Jack Ma
Alibaba founder Jack Ma gives a thumbs-up as he arrives to speak to investors at an initial public offering roadshow in Singapore September 16, 2014. Edgar Su—Reuters

Both lists include some surprising players who will be directly or indirectly affected by the e-commerce giant's record stock offering.

Depending on how things go on Friday, when Alibaba starts trading on the New York Stock Exchange, there could be tens of thousands of winners from what’s expected to be a record initial public offering.

But as with all things in life, there are winners and then there are winners. Here’s a rundown of who those really big winners are apt to be, along with some potential losers.

The Winners

1) Jack Ma, Alibaba founder and CEO

This former school teacher turned Internet mogul doesn’t need Alibaba’s IPO to go gangbusters. He is already the richest man in China, worth approximately $22 billion, according to Bloomberg. For Ma, who personally owns around 9% of Alibaba shares, any boost in the stock’s estimated value post-IPO will simply be icing on the cake.

Ma’s real victory comes in the retention of power. Because the Chinese government forbids foreign ownership of key strategic assets in China, this IPO is structured in an unconventional way. As MONEY points out in “No, Alibaba is Not the Next Facebook (and 4 Other Myths About this Mega-IPO Debunked,” investors who buy the stock don’t technically get to own the company. Ma and a group of Chinese citizens who founded and help run Alibaba are still the technical owners of the company’s assets.

Rather, investors simply get the rights to the profits that are sent to a holding company known as a “variable interest entity,” which is based in the Cayman Islands.

The upshot is, Ma gets to raise $25 billion in capital by going public, yet he is not beholden to his shareholders in the same way other publicly traded companies are. In other words, Ma gets his money without having to give up any power. That’s like winning the lotto.

2) Masayoshi Son, founder and CEO of Softbank

Son, who runs the Japanese tech and telecom giant Softbank, is now the richest man in Japan, worth nearly $20 billion, according to Forbes. For that, he can thank one of the greatest investment decisions in modern history.

In 2000, at the height of the tech bubble, Son invested $20 million in a Chinese startup and encouraged its founder, Jack Ma, to hang on during tough times.

That proved to be beyond smart. Son’s $20 million turned into around $55 billion in less than a decade and a half, which is another reason why Son is sometimes referred to as the “Bill Gates of Japan.” This is sweet redemption for an Internet visionary who reportedly lost upwards of $70 billion in wealth when the tech bubble burst in 2000.

3) Softbank and Sprint

Much has been written about how Yahoo owns around one fifth of Alibaba’s shares. Well, Masayoshi Son’s Softbank — the Japanese tech, telecom and Internet giant — owns more than a third of the e-commerce giant.

For Softbank, owning Alibaba will help it attract global investors who want an indirect — and more diversified — way to gain exposure to the Chinese company. In addition to its large stake in Alibaba, Softbank is a major player in the Japanese mobile phone market; has its hands in hundreds of tech and media companies throughout the world; and owns a 70% stake in Sprint.

Now Softbank will have a pile of cash to make strategic acquisitions to strengthen Sprint, which for years has lagged its larger competitors Verizon and AT&T. At the very least, Softbank can invest some if its Alibaba winnings in Sprint by improving its infrastructure.

4) Snapchat

After its IPO, Alibaba will have $25 billion burning a hole in its pocket. Already, Wall Street and Silicon Valley are drawing up a list of potential takeover and investment targets.

High up on that list is Snapchat. Yes, talks between the two companies — which would have had Alibaba take a minority stake in the messaging app business — ended more than a month ago.

But that may have been because of the noise surrounding Alibaba’s IPO, and the fact that Snapchat raised around $20 million in funding through another means: via the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Forbes reports, though, that this represents just 3% to 5% of the company, whose overall value is said to be around $10 billion. So there’s plenty of opportunity for Alibaba to get a piece of the pie.

Alibaba isn’t the only deep-pocketed suitor reportedly interested in Snapchat. The company has already turned down an offer from Facebook, and there are rumors that Microsoft, which has developed a similar app to Snapchat called Windup, is also interested in buying the firm. Surely, having Alibaba circling this pond will only drive Snapchat’s price higher.

5) ShopRunner

Alibaba has made a lot of small investments in U.S. companies, ranging from the app search engine Quixey to the messaging service Tango to the transportation app Lyft. But its $200 million investment in the online shopping site ShopRunner is the most intriguing because of how Alibaba may leverage it down the road.

Alibaba now owns 39% of the online service, which is aiming its sights on Amazon.com. Think of ShopRunner as a virtual mall, in which small storefronts of well-known retailers like Brooks Brothers, Neiman Marcus, and Eastern Mountain Sports can be found. As with Amazon Prime, ShopRunner charges a flat fee (in this case, $79 annually) in exchange for free 2-day shipping on purchases made throughout the year. Quartz points out that the model is similar to Alibaba’s Tmall, where the company gets a small cut for every item sold on top of the annual subscription fee.

While ShopRunner pales in comparison to Amazon right now, that could change if Alibaba decides to throw its full weight behind this service and uses this franchise as its American version of Tmall.

The Losers:

1) Yahoo

It sure seems odd to describe a company that owns around a fifth of one of the most valuable businesses in the world — a stake that’s worth about $35 billion — a loser.

But here’s the deal: Yahoo, by agreement, must sell around 27% of its stake in Alibaba at the IPO. And as it sells its stake, Yahoo shares will begin to lose the one thing that has wooed investors so far this year: that Alibaba mystique.

Soon after, pressure will grow on Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer to use the proceeds of the Alibaba investment wisely, for future acquisitions. But Yahoo doesn’t exactly have a great track record with companies purchased. Remember its $1 billion acquisition of Tumblr? As the New York Times recently pointed out, “Yahoo’s chief executive, Marissa Mayer, will find out how investors value the businesses she actually runs.”

2) Tencent

Tencent Holdings is a Chinese Internet company that competes head to head with Alibaba in a variety of businesses, ranging from online advertising to e-payments. Up until now, Tencent has been the largest Chinese internet stock, with a market value of around $150 billion. That will all change after Friday, when Tencent will drop to No. 2.

Moreover, in the run-up to Alibaba’s IPO, Tencent and other Chinese stocks have gotten short shrift as investors have fixated on Alibaba. See the chart below:

TCEHY Chart

TCEHY data by YCharts

3) Uber

What threat does a giant online retailer like Alibaba pose to a mobile ride-sharing service? Well, in the U.S., Alibaba recently joined a group that invested $250 million in Uber’s rival Lyft. Meanwhile, in China Alibaba is taking on Uber by backing the taxi-booking service Kuaidi Technology.

As Fortune recently pointed out, Kuaidi has gone from zero to 100 million users and 1 million drivers in two years.

4) The Nasdaq

The Nasdaq is synonymous with hot tech stocks, such as Facebook and Google. But when Facebook went public two years ago, things did not go smoothly. Trading started about half an hour later than expected, traders complained of missed orders, and there were questions if investors were getting the prices they expected. Nasdaq officials admitted that they were embarrassed by the glitches.

It came as no surprise, then, that Alibaba chose to list on the NYSE over the Nasdaq. According to Reuters, “Alibaba executives worried about Nasdaq’s ability to handle their $21 billion initial public offering later this month, since the exchange botched Facebook’s market debut two years ago.”

5) Baidu

Baidu, which runs the biggest search engine in China, has been among the most popular Chinese stocks held by U.S. investors. In fact, a ranking of stocks held by hedge funds this year showed Baidu as the top Chinese entrant, according to Business Insider. What’s more, Baidu was ranked as the most widely held American Depository Receipt (a type of foreign equity holding listed on American stock exchanges) last year.

That’s likely to change as Alibaba is an even bigger Chinese tech play, and it’s considerably more diverse in its holdings than Baidu.

MONEY tech stocks

No, Alibaba Is Not the Next Facebook (and 4 Other Myths About This Mega-IPO Debunked)

An employee is seen behind a glass wall with the logo of Alibaba at the company's headquarters on the outskirts of Hangzhou, Zhejiang
Chance Chan—Reuters

A reality check on this e-commerce giant, in advance of the Chinese tech stock's much anticipated initial public offering.

Everything about Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant, seems larger than life.

Its initial public offering, slated for Sept. 19, is expected to be the biggest IPO in U.S. history, raising possibly $25 billion.

The company is also China’s largest retailer, not to mention the biggest e-commerce player in the world, dwarfing U.S. companies like eBay EBAY INC. EBAY 0.6497% and Amazon.com AMAZON.COM INC. AMZN -8.3403% . Indeed, in the media, Alibaba has been described as China’s eBay, Amazon, and Google all rolled into one. Wow.

Of course, whenever there’s a convergence of three of the market’s favorite topics — tech investing, Chinese stocks, and IPOs — hyperbole has a way of creeping in.

So here’s a realistic look at the biggest myths about Alibaba that will help you put the stock in perspective.

Myth #1: Alibaba will be the most important stock to hit the market since Facebook.

Reality: Alibaba’s IPO may be bigger than Facebook’s, but its shares will have far less impact on the broader market.

Even though Alibaba is going public on the New York Stock Exchange, it’s technically not an American company. And that means the stock is not eligible for inclusion in the S&P 500 index, says Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst with S&P Indices.

That, in turn, means that funds that track the major U.S. indexes will not be allowed to buy the stock, so the shares will have far less impact on how the broad market performs.

Plus, Alibaba is likely to be more volatile than other big tech stocks, as it won’t be included in those index funds that are required to hold all the stocks in their respective benchmarks in good times and bad. As Kevin Landis, chairman and president of the Firsthand Funds recently told Reuters: “There is a pretty strong argument that index inclusion equals stability.”

Reuters points out that by choosing to list on the NYSE rather than the Nasdaq, Alibaba gave up the possibility of being included in another well-tracked index: the Nasdaq 100.

Myth #2: Alibaba is like Amazon, eBay, and Google all rolled into one.

Reality: Alibaba isn’t China’s only Amazon, eBay or Google.

If you just read the headlines, you’d think that Alibaba is like the Borg — an intimidating collective that methodically goes from market to market devouring everything in its path. Yet the truth of the matter is that Alibaba, despite its size, faces stiff competition even in its home market.

Take the Google GOOGLE INC. GOOGL -0.8579% comparison. Alibaba is often described as the Google of China not because it runs a search engine, but because it leverages its consumer website for online advertising revenue.

But you know who else does that? Baidu.com BAIDU INC. BIDU 2.5434% , which is the Google of China because it runs the leading search engine and uses it as a source of online ad revenues. Baidu is a $75 billion company that trades on the Nasdaq and can be found in some of the leading U.S. growth stock funds, such as T. Rowe Price Blue Chip Growth.

As for the Amazon comparisons, don’t forget that there is already an Amazon of China, which is listed on the Nasdaq: It’s called JD.com JD.COM INC ADS EA REPR 2 COM 'A' SHS JD -2.5953% , a $40 billion company that went public in the U.S. earlier this year. JD.com is a retailer that sells directly to consumers, but it also runs an online marketplace where other sellers can find consumers — much like Amazon as well as Alibaba’s Tmall.

Alibaba is actually closest in structure to eBay, as it runs a consumer-to-consumer online auction site in addition to an electronic payment service called Alipay that’s a lot like eBay’s Paypal.

Here too, though, there’s stiff competition. Tencent Holdings TENCENT HOLDINGS LTD. TCEHY -0.581% , a Chinese Internet and media company, operates Tenpay. Baidu offers Baidu Wallet, and there there are scores of Chinese banks that are getting in on the e-pay game.

Myth #3: You will own the most important Chinese company through this IPO.

Reality: Actually, this IPO won’t give you any ownership stake in the company at all.

Alibaba’s offering is being portrayed as an opportunity to own the most important company in China. Technically, the shares you buy won’t give you any ownership stake in this company. That’s because the Chinese government restricts foreign ownership of key strategic assets.

To get around this, Chinese companies that list abroad have come up with a complex structure called a “variable interest entity.” In Alibaba’s case, the VIE is based in the Cayman Islands and is entitled to the profits that Alibaba in China generates.

This may sound like a distinction without a difference, but it can lead to major complications. For instance, even though many Chinese companies including Baidu have gone public using VIE’s, the Chinese government has not ruled on the full legality of such a structure, the New York Times has reported.

Plus, disputes over transparency are bound to rise as foreign owners have no say in the actual operation of the underlying company. In a famous case in 2011, Yahoo, a long-standing investor in Alibaba, got into a dispute with co-founders Jack Ma and Simon Xie, claiming that they had improperly moved the Alipay bill-paying unit out of the the part of Alibaba that Yahoo partially owned an interest in.

The dispute was eventually resolved, but because the shareholders of the company (in the 2011 case, Yahoo; but going forward the public) don’t actually own and control the underlying company that generates the profits, disputes like this are bound to arise.

Myth #4: CEO Jack Ma is the Jeff Bezos of China.

Reality: Jack Ma is more like Jack Welch than Jeff Bezos.

Because Alibaba is a big player in e-commerce like Amazon.com, founder and CEO Jack Ma is often compared with Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos.

But while Bezos is a consummate disrupter who is leveraging technology to change the way we consume, Ma seems to have none of these types of ambitions. Instead, there’s a growing sense in management circles that Ma is simply like an old-school head of a conglomerate who just wants to dominate every business his company is involved in.

“Alibaba doesn’t look much like Facebook, Google, or even Amazon,” Walter Frick recently argued in the Harvard Business Review. “Instead, it operates more like GE.”

Frick went on to cite this passage from a 2010 Harvard Business School case study on Alibaba written by professor Julie Wulf:

By his own admission, Ma was a fan of Jack Welch, so it was only natural that his organization came to resemble that of GE in some regards. Just as Welch did not dictate an overall theme or strategy for GE, Ma preferred not to set one agenda from Alibaba’s corporate center, but rather to have each subsidiary set its own strategy. Much like Welch’s famed “#1 or #2” objective for each of these businesses, Alibaba’s governance inspired its subsidiaries to be the leaders of their respective industries. Ma explained, “Business unit presidents must have the freedom to do what is right for their business. I want business units to compete with each other…and focus on being the best in their businesses.

This would explain why the company is involved not just in online retail, but in wholesale supply, logistics, computer services, cloud computing, media, marketing, and finance.

Myth #5: Alibaba threatens U.S. tech and e-commerce companies.

Reality: Alibaba’s growth lies in China, not in the U.S. .

There’s a stat floating around that says Alibaba controls some 80% of all Chinese e-commerce. That makes it sound like Alibaba is done conquering its home market and is looking abroad because that’s the only way to grow.

In reality, Alibaba is a big player in what is still a developing marketplace in China for online sales. By sheer numbers, China is a huge market, but less than half its households are online, and consumer spending makes up only around a third of its economic activity (compared with two thirds in the U.S.).

So future growth will be attained by making sure that it continues to control a large swath of the Chinese market as more and more consumers get online and as consumer spending there becomes a bigger and bigger part of the country’s larger economy.

In the U.S., the company has launched small efforts, including its 11 Main marketplace. But as MONEY’s Kristen Bellstrom recently noted, “At least in its current form, 11 Main is no match for America’s current online retail kingpins.”

Just as U.S. firms ranging from Wal-Mart to Netflix have run into cultural difficulties and stiff competition abroad, Alibaba has to figure out the nuances of American consumers and tastes before it can even try to conquer this market.

More likely, Alibaba’s goal at this point is limited to attracting Western investors and — as Greg Besinger pointed out in the Wall Street Journal — establishing a foothold in the U.S. so it can start selling more American-made goods to its Chinese customers.

So American e-commerce companies should relax — at least for the moment.

MONEY financial crisis

6 Years Later, 7 Lessons from Lehman’s Collapse

Lehman Brothers world headquarters is shown Monday, Sept. 15, 2008 in New York.
Lehman Brothers world headquarters is shown Monday, Sept. 15, 2008 in New York. Lehman Brothers, burdened by $60 billion in soured real-estate holdings, filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition in U.S. Bankruptcy Court after attempts to rescue the 158-year-old firm failed. Mark Lennihan—Reuters

The venerable investment bank Lehman Brothers went under six years ago today. While Wall Street has recovered from the financial crisis that resulted, lessons endure for Main Street investors.

Exactly six years ago today, Wall Street came closer to imploding than at any other time since the Great Depression.

That was when the venerable investment bank Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy on Sept. 15, 2008, amid the global mortgage meltdown, triggering a cascade effect across Wall Street. Within days, the insurer AIG had to be bailed out by the federal government while other investment banks, including Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch, were pushed to the brink. Merrill, in fact, was eventually sold amid panic to Bank of America.

Six years later, the nation’s financial system seems to have largely healed. Banks are back to posting record profits. Over the past several years, financial stocks have been among the hottest areas of the market.

^DWCB Chart

^DWCB data by YCharts

And with the housing market recovering, even the dreaded mortgage-backed security — the type of bond that triggered the financial panic in the first place starting in 2007 — are back in fashion.

But even if it seems like it’s business as usual on Wall Street, for Main Street investors key lessons endure. Here are 7 of them.

Lesson #1: The price you pay for stocks matters. Really.

The media’s narrative is that the stock market plummeted into an historic bear market because of the global financial panic. That may be true, but equities may not have fallen that far — and for that long — if the circumstances weren’t ripe for a correction.

Remember that in October 2007, the price/earnings ratio for the stock market — based on 10 years of average profits — rose above 25, marking one of only a handful of times that market valuations rose so high. Not surprisingly, the stock market went on to lose 57% of its value from October 9, 2007, through March 9, 2009. (As an aside, the stock market’s so-called normalized P/E ratio is back above 25 again today.)

By March 2009, the P/E ratio for the S&P 500 had sunk to an historically low 13 (the historic average is closer to 16), which has been a signal of buying opportunities. Had you invested at that moment — listening to the Warren Buffett rule that says “be greedy when others are fearful and fearful when others are greedy” — you would have enjoyed total returns of 230% ever since.

Lesson #2: Don’t bank on any one group of stocks — even financials.

The turmoil after Lehman’s collapse was different and more frightening than the bursting of the Internet bubble in 2000. Why? This time the stocks that took the biggest hits weren’t shares of profitless startups that no one had ever heard of. In this crisis, the biggest losers were financial titans — some more than a century old — that produced a third of the market’s profits and dividends. No wonder these blue chips were fixtures in many retirement portfolios.

The love affair is clearly over … or is it? Financials have been among the market’s best performers since September 2011, having doubled in value in three short years. As a result, bank stocks, which made up less than 9% of the S&P 500 in 2009, based on total stock market value, now represent more than 16% of the broad market. That means they’re probably among the biggest holdings in your stock mutual funds and ETFs.

Lesson #3: Buy and hold works — eventually.

When the Dow fell to 6547 on March 9, 2009, stocks had already lost more than half their value. And equities wouldn’t fully recover until 2013. So it may seem that investors who pulled $25 billion out of stock funds in March and $240 billion over the next three years — plowing that money into bonds — were on the right track.

They weren’t. March 2009 marked the start of a bull market that saw stocks return 230% so far. Had you simply hung on to a basic 70% equity/30% bond strategy from Sept. 1, 2008, when things started to get scary, you’d have earned nearly the 9% historical annual return for this mix over five-year stretches since 1926. Of course, you’d have earned that only by staying the course.

Lesson #4: There is no such thing as a “conservative” or stable stock.

In past crashes, pundits always pointed out that the “safe” place to be is among giant, blue chip stocks that pay dividends and that are industry leaders. Well, Lehman Brothers, Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, and AIG all fell under those descriptions. Yet all of those stocks plunged more than the broad market.

This taught investors a huge lesson: Treat all stocks as the volatile, unpredictable creatures that they are. Even dividends, which are synonymous with financially stable, conservatively run companies, can’t be trusted, because during the crisis, the financial sector began slashing dividend payments to safeguard their finances.

Lesson #5: Reaching for yield can lead to a fall.

When stocks fall, the stability of cash can cushion the blow. Yet things don’t necessarily work out that way.

Just ask shareholders of Schwab YieldPlus. This so-called ultrashort bond fund — which was marketed as a cash alternative, though it really wasn’t one — fell 35% in 2008 when the mortgage securities that provided the “plus” in the fund’s name turned out to be riskier than thought. (In January 2011 Schwab settled the charges that it misled investors but did not admit wrongdoing.)

Before that, there was the Reserve Fund, the first money fund in 14 years to lose value in part because it tried to boost payouts by holding some Lehman debt.

It makes no sense to take risks with your rainy-day savings, a lesson that’s worth remembering today. Since early 2009, investors have poured billions of dollars into floating-rate bond funds, which buy short bank loans that offer higher payouts than basic cash, as well as ultrashort bond funds.

Lesson #6: Diversification works — but in diverse ways.

In 2008, only one type of diversification seemed to pan out: your basic mix of stocks and bonds. Among equities, everything pretty much fell in lockstep.

Fast-forward more than three years, when the financial crisis unfolded in a different guise — this time with the debt crisis in Europe. Fear of government defaults peaked in early 2012, with rates on Greek debt reaching 29%. Diversification worked here, too, but also in a different guise.

While conventional wisdom said investors should flee the continent, European shares wound up beating the world in 2012, returning 20.3%. The year before that, it was U.S. stocks that performed the best (despite Uncle Sam’s fiscal woes). And in 2013, Japan led the way, despite having experienced another recession.

Spreading your bets globally eventually pays off, especially given how mercurial equities can be. For investors who are hearing that the U.S. looks like the only promising market these days, this is a clear lesson to heed.

Lesson #7: Stocks always recover; people don’t.

The Dow closes at an all-time high, but that’s cold comfort to those who retired in the past five years. Big upfront losses can crack a nest egg, even if the market later improves. That’s because your portfolio has the most potential earning power in the first few years after you get the gold watch.

Historically, investors have been able to tap anywhere from 4% all the way up to 10% of their savings annually based on how markets fared in this all-important first decade of retirement.

Over the next 10 years, return expectations are extremely modest, so even a 4% withdrawal rate may seem optimistic. For boomers nearing retirement, the trick is not to make matters worse, as two out of five older workers did in 2008 by keeping 70% or more of their 401(k)s in equities.

It’s time to dial down the risks in your portfolio — before the next downturn.

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