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Stocks  | June 28, 2021

At first glance, Apple (AAPL) and Amazon (AMZN) stocks appeal to two distinct group of investors. The former, trading at 26 times current earnings, is a blend of value and growth, what some might call a GARP play. The latter, trading at 64 times EPS, is the highest growth of FAAMG names.

But the Amazon Maven has unearthed an interesting finding. Both AAPL and AMZN are worth almost the same, in P/E terms, if one were to look forward to 2025. At comparable valuations, which is a better buy-and-hold through the mid-2020s?

AAPL and AMZN: same valuation?

The P/E multiple is a popular valuation metric that adds context to a stock’s market price. The numerator tends to be prior-year (trailing), current-year or next-year (forward) earnings per share.

Amazon commands a higher multiple, among other reasons, because of the company’s more aggressive growth profile. Wall Street expects the e-commerce giant to increase EPS by a factor of four in the next five years. Apple, on the other hand, is project to “only” double earnings in the same period.

By 2025, this is what analysts expect of each company’s bottom line, and what the stock’s P/E would be if share prices remained unchanged:

  • Amazon: 2025 EPS of $172.30, for a P/E of 20.4 times
  • Apple: fiscal 2025 EPS of $6.30, for a P/E of 21.2 times

Given enough time and assuming that current earnings projections are close enough to accurate, Amazon tends to become a less aggressively valued stock by the year. Maybe one day, in the not-too-distant future, shares could even start to look more appealing to value investors.

Which is the best bet?

If Amazon and Apple are valued at roughly the same 2025 P/E, one fair question to ask is: which stock might perform best in the next five years? I can use the earnings multiple as a guide to think through this question.

From the P/E formula, one can derive the following: future stock price is determined by the company’s earnings delivered (the denominator “E”) and how much investors are willing to pay for those earnings (the valuation multiple). Therefore, in the Amazon vs. Apple race to 2025, whichever does best at delivering EPS above consensus and/or commanding a richer earnings multiple wins.

Clearly, this is open for debate since the future in uncertain. But I believe that Amazon stock has a better chance of producing higher gains than Apple through 2025.

First, I find it highly unlikely that AMZN’s earnings multiple will converge from the 60s of today to the low 20s in 2025. This would only be feasible if the company’s growth opportunities dried out quickly, which I am not counting on. On the other hand, Apple’s P/E is more likely to stay around 20 to 25 times, given the more mature profile of the company relative to Amazon.

This is not to say that I expect Amazon’s P/E to expand from 64 times. The opposite is more likely to happen, as the company ages. But if the stock is valued at, say, 40 times EPS in 2025, Amazon would not even need to deliver results beyond expectations to see its stock price double in five years.

Regarding consensus, I also think that Amazon can beat expectations by a wider margin than Apple could. The e-commerce giant has been more aggressive at investing back in the business. The green- and brown-field revenue growth opportunities in e-commerce and cloud seem better.

In addition, Amazon’s margins could expand substantially (see five-year trend below), if or once the company’s online retail business gets closer to maturity. Apple could also improve its margin profile but probably much less so, given how profitable the company already is.

Twitter speaks

Fun fact: Amazon and Apple stock trade at roughly the same 2025 P/E (i.e. 2025 earnings in the denominator) of around 21 times, even though AMZN seems much more expensive at today’s valuations. Which do you think will produce more gains in the next five years?

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