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All right, folks, we’ll welcome to the Investing for Beginners podcast. This is episode 167 tonight. Andrew and I are going to answer a great listener question tonight. We have a really good one. That’s very interesting. And we thought we would go ahead and kind of dissect this. It has a few different parts, and it would give us a great chance to talk about some different things. So I’ll go ahead and read the first part, and then we’ll start our wheel dialogue. So it starts. Hello, Andrew, Dave, thank you again for the priceless information and insight. You’re both providing us with; I have a few questions in relation to growth investing. What are your thoughts on growth? Stocks are their main source of price rises coming from the anticipation of increased feature growth, as opposed to the true representation of numbers in their financial statements. So we’ll go ahead and start with that one. So, Andrew, what are your thoughts on that first part of the question?
Yeah, it’s a great question. And I think you can answer it in a myriad of different ways. What’s important is that you take an honest approach and don’t let your biases affect what the answer to that question would be and how you’re going to use that. As you look at stocks, whether they’re value stocks, growth stocks, or any average Joe stock down on the exchange. So I think as it comes to growth stocks and value stocks or any stock, you should know that it’s, every stock is different. So, you know, some of them might be priced based on anticipation of future, future growth, and some might be priced because they are popular hot and have a great idea, even, even something as, as crazy as a great idea, can, can help you raise money on wall street today.
So, you know, when I, when I tried to think of stocks that seem to be priced in anticipation of increased growth because I think that’s a good place to start. You’re going to have outliers on either side, but a company for me, when I look at the kind of like a stereotypical gross stock, but it’s still based on financial statements, would be Amazon. So Amazon is a company that I believe we might have talked poorly about on the podcast before I might’ve said something negative about if I did, I admit to being wrong on the company the what Jeff Bezos has done with the company. And, you know, we’ve seen that obviously through the pandemic, but as you start to unpeel the layers on this company, you’ll see that there’s, there’s much more to the company than just your standard prime shipping and get me three things off of their website.
They have a very strong segment called AWS Amazon web services. And so, you know, why you look at their main, the main face of their business with this retail thing that they’re in, where they’re providing really fast shipping, the people who are buying online, there doesn’t seem to be much growth potential there. And yet you have a PE what’s, which seems ridiculous like a, like a 70 or 100 plus, you know, depending on what their needs are—and then depending on where the price is. So somebody who maybe doesn’t truly understand the company could think that the very high PE is indicative of just like a crazy extreme gross stock. And I don’t think that’s the case with Amazon. You can, you can talk that way about other businesses, but when it comes to Amazon, they have their segment with AWS is so dominant, and there’s so much growth that’s been coming from that segment.
When I say so much growth, you know, I’m not talking about like a couple of percentage points. We’re talking about 30, 35% growth in an operating income year after year because people are going to the cloud. And so you see this even more with the coronavirus and COVID people staying at home businesses, realizing they need to get digital. And a lot of businesses either beefing up they’re it infrastructure or creating new ones, or simply just hitching a ride on Amazon’s AWS and letting Amazon take care of the infrastructure for them and provide them with digital internet and the cloud platform that they can use for their whole company. And so, you know, even before this whole pandemic happens, AWS saw 30 plus percent growth, for several years now. And it’s gotten to the point where that segment has as much operating income as their entire retail segment.
So I think when people talk about Amazon, and I think the narrative is shifting now, and you should see it shift more and more, as people get more educated on it, you have a very low margin business. And, you know, they cut competitors completely out by shrinking margins so thin that it was impossible to compete against them in retail. But on the flip side, they have this wildly profitable, huge margin business that is mapping out the infrastructure for the whole globe. And you still have whole parts of the globe, which are not online. Like we are in a developed country like the United States, for example. So a lot of potentials there, a lot of devices that still need to hook up to the cloud that either hasn’t been invented, there are being purchased or used around the home. And you just have a lot of growth that that segment has seen.
And when you combine that with some other metrics like free cash flows, as an example, the company is not astronomically priced to the effect that we’re seeing a.com bubble valuation they’re priced kind of similar, at least there’s, there’s a relationship between what’s going on with their financials. And so in that sense, it’s, it’s, Mark’s, it’s, it’s more expensive than I’d like to see. And it’s more expensive for my tastes because I’m not invested in the stock. And I have no plans to be at the price that it’s at now compared to their financials, but it’s a good example of a growth stock that might be expensive, but for a good reason,
That’s an excellent point. And I love that example; a company that comes to mind for me along those same lines is somebody like Microsoft. It has everything you want. It does. It’s, it’s a fantastic company. It has great products. It’s done exceptionally well with the cloud. Andrew was talking about Amazon and AWS. Microsoft has their Azure. That is their platform of choice for the cloud, and they are one of the big three alongside Google. And Microsoft has written that Azure cloud program to the Heights that it is now. I remember when I bought the company when I first started investing around 39, $38 seems like a steal now. I can’t believe I was nervous about buying it back then, but now it seems like that seems like a steal, but it’s currently at $226 a share, give or take, but some numbers just to kind of throw at you to talk about some of the things that are going to be coming up in the question.
One of the things that when you think about Microsoft, and this is a great part of his question, is the growth already built in the anticipation. And it is. It’s not so evident with a company like Microsoft because the anticipation of them growing into the revenues that people think they’re going to do, they’re most likely going to do in this circumstance. The PE for Microsoft, for example, is around 40, which is high, which is a lot higher than I feel comfortable looking at. But, but at the same token, it’s not bubble territory, but you can’t argue that it’s not expensive, but the bigger question comes into is, is everything different now? And have we progressed so far in the last 15 or 20 years since we had the.com, for example, the bubble burst, have we changed that much, that these companies are worth the price that you’re going to pay for them?
And that’s, that’s the, I guess the big question, and that’s what nobody can tell you. Yes or no. It comes down to what your risk tolerance is and how you feel about those investing in those kinds of stocks and in putting down your money for that kind of thing. Microsoft, again, if you look at the financials, they just, they’re staggering. They have grown in just about everything you can think of, from revenue to earnings. Their margins are growing; the dividend is growing. The debt is going down, everything that you would ever want and accompany. It sounds fantastic. And if it sounds like I drank the Koolaid, I did read through some of their tank Ks, and I liked everything I saw except for the price. The margins were ridiculous, and this is coming from somebody who spends a lot of time looking at banks.
And so those margins that we’re talking about for a Microsoft versus JP Morgan, for example, are shockingly high. And if a bank was getting that, Oh my God, everybody wanted to buy a bank, but they aren’t. And I think that’s where some of this comes into, if I can hazard a guess, is that I feel like that some of the exuberance that is in the market right now is in part, because you’re seeing businesses now that are growing margins, for example, that are staggeringly high than what we’re used to seeing in the S and P 500, for example, some of the companies that kind of dominated the S and P even ten years ago, somebody like Exxon or GE, any of those companies would kill to have an operating margin of 35% or a net margin of 30%. And when I’m referring to those, what I’m talking about is the operating profit that the company generates compared to the revenue, and the higher the number, the better, because that gives you more flexibility to do stuff.
So, for example, Kroger, which is a grocery store last quarter, they came in around 2.6% for their net margin, which means it’s narrow. So they have to be Uber conservative, and Uber focused on things like shrinkage, which means theft and the costs that they’re paying for things. And payroll becomes a much bigger issue because you have to pay far more attention to those kinds of things. Then when you’re cranking out 30% margins, because you got all this money to play with. So it’s, it’s, it’s different. And I think some of those things that we’re seeing in the market now, especially with these tech companies with Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Intel AMD goes on and on and on and on even Oracle and Cisco, which are air quotes, considered old companies. Even they have great margins compared to some of the industrial type companies that we’re; we’re used to dominating the S and P 500 or the NASDAQ, or even the Dow.
So when those things were the forefront of everybody’s investments, portfolios, and those are the companies people are talking about and looking at, they were much more narrow margins and more old school, I guess, is a better way of putting it. And now you look at these tech companies, and they’re exciting, and it’s, it’s, it’s awesome. You see all these huge margins and these huge growth ratios. And that’s what I think gets people excited about investing in some of these companies. So that’s where I think a lot of the exuberance comes from is from seeing these things. Now, for me, time will tell whether this is going to be different than the four, I guess, most famous words in the market that you hear all the time is this time it’s different. Well, it never has proven to be different from that’s. I guess that’s the big question.
I love what you brought up margins. Cause I think it contributes in a very big way to the whole discussion because, you know, kind of internally embedded in this question is growth versus value. And I think that’s always every time you hear those two, cause they’re kind of two, got two guys on the opposite side and they’re battling it out against each other. And I think that we, we don’t, we need to look outside of that and get down to the difference between, you know, what’s making the stock a gross stock. And if, if, if this time is different, because so, so, so think about this for a second. So the reason why value works and, you know, I can’t take credit for this. This was something I heard from Jeremy Grantham in an interview he did. So the reason value investing works is because you have mean reversion. And so what mean reversion is somebody with high-profit margins, as an example, will eventually get lower profit margins because a competitor will see the high-profit margins. And so obviously they’ll enter into space, that’s going to reduce profit margins, right.
And make the pie smaller. Right? So a stock that was trading at 50 PE with its, let’s say 30% margins, those margins dropped to 20% or 15% that PE is going to shrink down to something like a 20 or 15. And now all of a sudden, you have a huge crash in the stock that PE mean reverts down to a more normal level. And so the reason for that mean reversion in the price and the PE was driven first from the fundamentals and the financials, right? So you had a change in the industry, a change in the business model, and that eventually made its way to the stock market. And so, you know, at the period where that industry was growing or that stock was growing and its margins were great or getting better, really great financials to stock day gray. And then once that crashed, everything means reverted.
So when you think about the, like the examples you gave, Dave was perfect. Exxon GE I can’t think of anybody else up there. You had other like bubbles that didn’t have good financials, but companies that did a company like Exxon there, they had there, their margins shrank because everybody around the world got into oil and, and drove the price down because supplies went up. You had a lot of different geopolitical things happen in the meantime, and a huge boom in shale drilling in the United States, which did not help any of them, any of those oil majors. Cause now you have a bunch of supply, and that drives the price of oil down. So, you know, the competition eroded what Exxon had. If we take a look at Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, I think that’s where it gets sticky. And it’s a, it’s a bit different because, okay, let’s take Facebook as an example, somebody could come in and try to make a competing social network, but just because somebody does it, does that mean they’re going to be able to take market share from Facebook because now social networks are an all or nothing thing.
Either you have the community, or you don’t. And so, you know, Facebook competes against Twitter, Facebook might compete against Pinterest, right. But, but they’re just kind of competing for everybody’s attention. And so in a way, yeah, you have new entrances who come in, and they’ll take a little bit of market share from Facebook and cause margins to shrink. And so, you know, in a way are a, they are in a pretty level competitive playing field, but you know, once somebody is on Facebook, it’s hard for, for another business to bring them out of Facebook. And so they can kind of keep margins pretty high, really for them, they just need to keep people on the platform. But when you may be shifting that to something like Apple would be a good example, and I’m going to take just a very small sliver of Apple, let’s look at their app store. And this was something that was mentioned in the recent trial that they had with, with the big tech against Congress. Right. It wasn’t a trial. It was, it was a, I’m not a legal expert, but there was David, what was, what do you call it?
I hear I hear from you. Okay. Hearing
That’s a bit different from a trial, right?
It is yes. Much. Okay. Yeah.
Okay. Who cares about the label anyway? So you have their app store, and basically, they’re charging developers a certain percentage to be on their platform. The problem with that is that if there aren’t other app stores that are coming into the market, Apple can kind of charge whatever they want. And so in a, in a, in a market, like going back to Exxon with oil, where somebody can come in and find a place to drill it, it’s very expensive of course, but you know, there’s, there are so many places around, around the country or around the globe where you can put a drill down and get down and get some of that nice oil and put it out in the market with something like an app store. I mean, people are either doing an iPhone, or they’re doing an Android, and there’s not, there’s not much in between like no offense to the Google funds, but, you know, there’s, it’s, it’s the attention there is focused just on those two things.
And so whereas a small example of an app store, which has probably great margins for Apple, just running that app store and letting developers make the apps, letting people download the apps, they don’t have a place for a competitor to compete and drive those margins down seriously. I mean, does that maybe cause an argument for a company with those type of maybe Warren buffet would call the competitive mode, right? Where, where there’s not an entry that can erode profit margins and cause mean reversion and therefore keep valuations long, higher, longer for those particular businesses.
That’s a very good point. But the opposite side of that argument then is that the app store, in particular, is, is under some fire because of the whole. So the opposite of that, I guess the counter-argument to that I guess, is that the regulation, the regulatory problem that Apple could run into and Google is, is facing as well, is the fact that if that lawsuit with Epic. These people create fortnight; if that goes through and they win, that could be a huge blow to Apple’s moat in regards to the app store. And that could seriously damage their ability to charge. Those had high rates that they charge the people, and that would affect the profit margins. And I know that Google has been under some scrutiny, even since the hearings that we are, that you mentioned about possibly breaking them up.
That’s one of the companies that I think Congress has focused more on the ones that were there aside from Amazon and Facebook. And so I wonder if those would be the competitors to those kinds of ideas of this, this time it’s different, or this time it could be different. And the other aspect of that too, thinking a little bit along the lines with Facebook, one of the arguments that I’ve heard about Facebook, as far as them being a growth stock is eventually they’ll, they’re going to max out or how many people they can have on the platform that you mentioned that they have to keep people on the platform, but they also have to grow the users on the platform. And eventually, they’re just going to run out of human beings on the earth.
Many people, though, let me find on that, like, okay, I don’t know how much you use it, but you’ve seen there. It seems like they’re trying to promote the marketplace tab on there. Have you are you familiar with the Facebook marketplace? I am. So I’m like a platform like that where you have that much attention. It makes you wonder if the growth is not in the user base, but in monetizing that user base. So by getting into something like a marketplace, it’s almost like they’re taking on Craigslist, you know, which could be a whole new revenue and income stream for them. And then who knows what they come up with next,
Right? Yeah, no, I would agree with that. And I know that I haven’t heard anything recently about this, but I know they were dabbling with the whole slash bank cryptocurrency idea. I haven’t, I haven’t heard anything about that in a little while, but I don’t know where that, where that went, but I know that they were discussing that. So like you said, that is certainly another revenue stream for them. I guess something that I wanted to talk a little bit about in regards to the whole growth thing versus value, somewhere along the line, it got where they became two separate camps. And I know that buffet has talked about this in his shareholder letters that you can’t have one without the other, that value investors want to buy a company like Microsoft, for example. Still, they want to buy it at a price that they can, that they think is reasonable so that all the stuff that you see in these tech companies are all things that we all love as value investors. We just feel like the price is too high. And I think that’s really what it comes down to. What are your thoughts on that?
I, I probably am wrong, but I think there is because who knows, who knows, who knows what people are doing out there? Who knows what they’re thinking, but in my opinion, it seems like the two camps you mentioned, I feel like there’s a ton of growth. People who don’t like, they, they don’t even, they don’t even know what the word valuation means, or they don’t even care. And then it seems like you have a bunch of value. People who are looking at tech stocks and saying, well, these aren’t the same valuation metrics as an industrial. So I’m not going to look at them either.
No, I would agree with that. But I wonder if the order of some of them, I feel like some of that is, is morphing a little bit. And a perfect example of that is that if that is what Vitale was talking about with us a few weeks ago, with his discussions on Uber and his idea of how to look at a company like that, which would probably fall into this growing category of companies in away.
But he’s been able to wrap his brain around where he thinks the company is going to be in five or ten years. And he can find value in that as the, as it goes along. And even though the company is tactically losing money right now, different segments of the business are well before COVID, we’re, we’re doing well, and we’re approving, and the margins for those were improving. But now with COVID, it’s kind of a little bit on pause thing, but I wonder if some of that is, is morphing a little bit too. I think I think it depends on, I suppose, which how rigid you want to be in each camp. I know that growth investors tend to have a focus on top-line numbers. We’re value investors; I think you are more looking at bottom-line numbers and other aspects of the business, as opposed to just looking at seeing that revenue go, you know, vertical. That’s true. And I’m probably just mentioning that because they’re typically the loudest and the dumbest, right. Who are, who are screaming from the rooftops about either way. Right. I think, but I also wonder if the, if the retail investors that have been talked a lot about, I wonder if that touches on some of that too, the excitement and the fall model, and some of those other things of missing out on some of these companies as well,
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I did want to touch on another part of his question here. He says, should they be a part of my diversified portfolio alongside traditional value stocks? My question, how companies are reaching all-time highs continue rising, especially when they seem ridiculously overvalued. Thank you both for your time. And we’d love to hear your takes on this, Dylan.
It comes down to risk tolerance. It’s, you know, and, and what I think, you need to challenge what you’re considering a growth stock. So, you know, we kind of talked about some, some good girls stocks. Let’s talk about some bad ones. I think when I look at a company like Yelp, as an example, like directly to what you were saying, Dave, I mean the top-line numbers on this company are just out of this world. So, you know, I’m looking at, let’s go back to like 2010, they had for the 8 million in revenue. Now they have 1 billion in revenue, right? So we’re talking about not just double-digit growth in revenue every year, but doubling in two years and then doubling in another two years growing fast. And then on the other side, you look at it from a value investing standpoint, and they have a negative PE they have like a 90% gross margins over 10, over 10 years.
So, you know, kind of like a lot of weird things going on there, but it was, it was a company that I had just stumbled on, and it wasn’t anything I ever thought about purchasing. Still, as I was learning more and more about the company, this was something where management was buying a lot of stocks with their profits. And so it was just a very weird thing for me to look at when I looked at how they were using this free cash flow. And it was almost like they were trying to be a holding company of stocks, rather than just focusing on their, on their business and having, you know, you, you would expect a growth company to come out of a period where they’re losing money after a few years, but they’ve just consistently continued to have any profits to show, even though they have these huge gross margins.
And so, you know, there’s a big difference, I think, between the company, like a Yelp and the company, like an Amazon, and you need to understand what the financials are saying and what management is doing. And, and whether that’s, you know, a bad business model or it’s bad capital allocation decisions, or, you know, whether it’s the market just thinks that this thing is, is the next best thing since sliced bread, and they’re willing to pay anything for it. Any of those situations can end up poorly for shareholders. And so you need to take it on a case by case basis. And to answer the question, I’m going to say; I’m not going to give you an answer because it depends on you. And then it also depends on what you are calling the gross stock. And if you’re calling a growth stock, as Dave defined it as something where has to value because there’s growth as a component, then yeah, of course, you should be buying those.
But if you’re talking about gross stock, as in it’s valued, like Cisco was in 1999, a 300 PE, or it’s valued like some stock over here on the cloud and, you know, has a PE of a thousand, or if it’s a stock that may be used to be gross and has some Grilly great financials, but other places where the business is really bad, any of those negative things, and maybe then a stock like that, shouldn’t be in your portfolio. And so I think as we try to define how we think about growth and value, these are the type of hard questions we need to ask, and we need to answer, we need to understand, and that helps form your answer when it comes to your portfolio.
I love that answer. And I, I agree with what you’re saying and looking at different companies and, and trying to, I guess, the best way of putting it as trying to decide whether that fits with what you’re comfortable with. It comes down to the risk. It comes down to whether you’re comfortable buying that particular company and having it as part of your portfolio and Taking the gamble that it will continue to improve. And when you start talking about these extremely high PEs in All the different raging numbers that you may see out of a company like Tesla, for example, their PE right now is 1600 to 1600 a monstrous week. Hi, it’s just, it’s stupid. I read somewhere today on Twitter that a guy did some calculations. And if you, if you looked at the price, if you even took, took the price of like the Shiller PE, which is kind of the overall P of the stock market, people are valuing A share of Tesla right now as if the company was making $350 million in earnings a year, not revenue earnings a year. Last year, it made 406 72 million. So wrap your brain around that. That’s,
It’s insane. And I don’t think any sane person could say that it’s not saying have Money on it. Yep. They have. They have, but the bigger question is, is not, If the bubble’s going to burst, it’s more wind. And just the margins alone, we were talking about That people, people get excited about Tesla, and they think about it as A tech company, for example. And the problem is, is that when you look at the margins of that company and compare them to somebody like Amazon or Microsoft or Google, they pale in comparison; I was looking at Tesla’s revenue numbers here just a few months ago. And their net margin was a little over 2% last year for the whole year, Microsoft was 33%. Amazon was probably in the same breath, and I know Google’s was as well. So the amount of money that those companies are making is just astronomical. Huge. So I guess the question you have to ask yourself is when you get to those high of numbers, then it becomes how much higher can it go. And is it something that is going to be part of your long term strategy? Now I’ll back up here for a second and, and take something that Andy shore and another contributor, great contributor on our site.
He talked a little bit about this, and one of his blog posts was talking about having fun money and playing with something like this. I don’t; I don’t have an issue with somebody going, you know, I want to buy a couple of shares of Yelp just for giggles, or, you know, buy a half a sliver of, of Tesla just to say you own it and see what kind of money you can make on it. But if you’re putting your whole portfolio in a company like a Yelp or, or something else along those, those lines, then it becomes more akin to gambling. And if you’re looking at having income down the road and all the things that Andrew and I have preached over the last three or four years, then those are the companies that are not, you don’t want to have them be a big part of your portfolio, and people can get upset about what I’m saying, but it comes down to when we’re investing, we want to try to be as stable about it as we possibly can.
And there are going to be times when you miss out on things. Buffet talks all the time about how I missed out on Amazon. He had a chance to invest in it early on, and he missed it. And he said I didn’t get it. I missed it. And he, you know, talks about that mistake. And they’re going to be times when you’re going to miss out companies. It’s just; it’s just, you can’t look at every single thing. It’s just not possible, but there are times when you see something, and it goes through the roof, and then everybody’s talking about it. And I’m going to use Bitcoin as an example, a few years ago. And remember the craze of Bitcoin, everybody was going crazy on it. When you know, things are a bubble are when you have your Hispanic speaking kitchen person come and ask you through an interpreter if they should buy Bitcoin or not. That’s when you know; things are a bubble because these are things that people are not talking about on an everyday basis. They’re only talking about it because it’s gotten so much attention and it’s gone. It’s gotten so expensive that not people think that they’re missing out, and they want to get involved. And that’s where a lot of the things that we’re talking about tonight, you have to kind of balance them as much as you can and try to be aware of that. But again, it all comes back To risk. What can you go to bed at night and not stress about, I just bought, I put half of my portfolio in this particular company and, Oh my God, what’s going to happen tomorrow because they got sued or something happened. God forbid, there was a horrible accident, and something happened, or a hurricane came through there, destroyed their factory, whatever it may be. Those are all things that you have to take into consideration when you’re considering all these things. So I hope that helps.
I think it does a lot. And if I can just leave a visual to maybe help, because the idea of trying to balance between fear, missing out, and making decent stock picks, it’s a tough battle. And it’s something. If you’re going to be an investor, you have to deal with the fear of missing out your whole life. So I, I, I was out shopping for shoes with my daughter, and I thought it kind of makes for a good visual.
You have to buy shoes for a kid when they’re young, and you can get them a couple of sizes big, and they’ll still grow into them. And so if you think about growth stocks in that way, are you going to be okay? If, if you pay a little bit more for a bigger size, right? If that’s our metaphor, the bigger sizes are the more expensive valuation. Are you going to be okay if you get one, maybe like a half size, one size bigger. Yeah. You know, probably in the next six months, well, we’ll probably still be fine. But if you get a size 12 shoe, you know, on somebody, who’s a size for those, that’s probably not going to be a worthwhile purchase. And at the same time, if you get a shoe that’s even one size bigger, but this person’s feet are shrinking and not getting bigger, then that’s probably not a good purchase either.
So when you’re thinking about your stocks goes, go goes back to that margin of safety. And if you are going to overpay for growth, make sure you’re overpaying by like half a size and not 12 sizes.
All right, folks, we’ll ask, going to wrap up our conversation for this evening. I wanted to thank Dylan for taking the time to send us that great question and keep sending us all these great questions, guys. We enjoy it. And it’s a lot of fun for us to talk about these different topics. And give us a little bit of wording back to you guys. So without any further ado, I’m going to go ahead and sign this off. You guys go out there and invest with a margin of safety. Emphasis is on safety. Have a great week, and we’ll talk to you next week.
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