Client Portals

Price Targets Are Obsolete: Why are they still a thing?3 min read

Sep 12, 2018 - John Osbon ( 5 mins to read)

Apple is in the news again this week because of its Gathering Round conference where the company announces new products and upgrades. With every event like this comes a new round of price targets and buy/hold/sell recommendations from Wall Street analysts. Our question is why do they bother? Individual price targets are notoriously unreliable and can be dangerously wrong.

All eyes on Apple

Thirty-two firms publish estimates on Apple. Some are boutique analysts, but others are powerhouses like Goldman Sachs.

When Apple was trading around $185 earlier this year, Goldman set a target of $165. They saw earnings issues ahead and translated that concern into an expected price drop. But that drop didn’t happen. Instead of falling, Apple continued to steam forward to its current level in the $220 range. Goldman has now adjusted its price target to $240.

Obviously, a forecast of minus 10% is a pretty big miss when actual performance has been plus 20%. And let’s be clear, Goldman is far from the only firm to miss by a mile on a forecast. It happens routinely at every analyst firm, large and small, and has for decades.

Do faulty forecasts matter?

An investor who trusted and followed Goldman’s guidance on AAPL this year would have sold low and bought back in at a higher price, the worst possible outcome.

Given the frequency of missed forecasts, we have to ask why they still exist. Pension funds and large institutions that monitor dozens of analysts may get some usable guidance by averaging all the forecasts together, but individual investors who try to leverage targets into profits aren’t likely to do very well. Choosing the wrong forecast to follow can be very costly, but you won’t know it’s wrong until the damage is done.

If you can’t trust the forecasting of a firm like Goldman Sachs with its best and brightest staff of analysts and economists, what’s an investor to do? The first part of the answer is simple – ignore price targets completely.

Making a decision to own a stock like Apple is based on each investor’s personal timeline, expectations, financial needs, personal balance sheet and ability to stay focused on the long game. We sort through these considerations in detail for clients before any investment.

Bloomberg on Apple

This Bloomberg chart summarizes analyst forecasts for Apple over the last five years. The yellow line tracks the stock’s actual price. The white tracks an average of where the 32 analysts expect the price to go in the next 12 months. Revisions up or down on the white line occur on or after the price of AAPL changes. Price targets make interesting headlines because they are satisfyingly specific, but they are not good leading indicators.

Graduating from price targets

The investment news cycle doesn’t focus on price target for funds, like Vanguard’s VGT. Right now Apple and Microsoft are the two largest components of VGT, which tracks the IT sector. New securities like Visa and Mastercard have been added in the last ten years. Cisco, Intel and IBM have been long time components. The asset class as a whole is the focus of VGT, not each individual security’s price target.

XLK from State Street uses a different methodology but the tech emphasis is the same. XLK has old timers like AT&T and newcomers like Alphabet and Facebook. Both XLK and VGT have provided generous returns over the last decade, without the guidance of analyst price targets.

What does this mean for me?

A price target is one of many pieces of market information that we feel misleads investors far more often than it educates. We’re here to help sort through the wide variety of information and, with our experience, filter out the remaining information that is most valuable to you and your investment goals.

delivered to your inbox


This communication may include forward-looking statements. All statements other than statements of historical fact are forward-looking statements (including words such as “believe,” “estimate,” “anticipate,” “may,” “will,” “should,” and “expect”). Although we believe that the expectations reflected in such forward-looking statements are reasonable, we can give no assurance that such expectations will prove to be correct. Various factors could cause actual results or performance to differ materially from those discussed in such forward-looking statements.”

“Historical performance is not indicative of future results. The investment return will fluctuate with market conditions.

Past performance is not indicative of any specific investment or future results. Views regarding the economy, securities markets or other specialized areas, like all predictors of future events, cannot be guaranteed to be accurate and may result in economic loss to the investor.

Investment strategies, philosophies, allocations and holdings are subject to change without prior notice.

This communication is intended to provide general information only and should not be construed as an offer of specifically tailored individualized advice.

While the Adviser believes the outside data sources cited to be credible, it has not independently verified the correctness of any of their inputs or calculations and, therefore, does not warranty the accuracy of any third-party sources or information.

Adviser does not endorse the statements, services or performance of any third-party vendor.

Unless stated otherwise, any mention of specific securities or investments is for hypothetical and illustrative purposes only. Adviser’s clients may or may not hold the securities discussed in their portfolios. Adviser makes no representations that any of the securities discussed have been or will be profitable.

Any IPO alerts are purely informational and should not be construed as recommendations to invest.

Adviser is not licensed to provide and does not provide legal, tax or accounting advice to clients. Advice of qualified counsel or accountant should be sought to address any specific situation requiring assistance from such licensed individuals.

Any case studies or hypothetical client profiles are for demonstration purposes only. They illustrate the breadth and depth of the many clients we represent at various life stages. Any similarities to actual Adviser’s clients past or present are strictly coincidental. Individual advice and results will vary based on each client’s circumstances, objectives and prevailing economic conditions.