Microsoft vs. Apple: Traders debate which $2 trillion stock is the better bet

It's a $2 trillion cage match — Microsoft vs. Apple.

Microsoft joined Apple this week as one of the only U.S. publicly traded companies with a market cap above $2 trillion.

CNBC's "Trading Nation" asked its traders which of the mega-cap stocks they would back here.

"Do I have to pick one?" Quint Tatro, president of Joule Financial, said on Wednesday.

But, while the choice was hard, Tatro did note that one of the stocks looks like an investment while the other is a better trade.

"From an investment standpoint, I think you've got to go with Microsoft. They have a much better balance sheet, they're trading at a higher multiple, but they're growing a little bit faster, albeit still in the high single digits," he said.

Microsoft is expected to report 16% sales growth in fiscal 2021 ending June, while profit is forecast to rise to $7.77 a share from $5.76 a share in fiscal 2020, according to FactSet estimates. The company trades at 32 times forward earnings.

"I think the trade here is Apple. Apple is still a little bit off highs, and again, it's trading at a fairly high multiple, it's pretty rich, but doesn't have as good a balance sheet — but I think the trade here is Apple to new highs," said Tatro.

Apple is one of the few FAANG stocks, alongside Netflix, that has not hit new highs since January. It is still 8% off its record.

J.C. O'Hara, chief market technician at MKM Partners, agreed with Tatro that it is difficult to choose between the two. Microsoft, he said, looks likely to continue to outperform given its bullish technical setup including a rising 200-day moving average and fresh highs set as recently as Wednesday.

"The short-term momentum definitely favors Microsoft," O'Hara said during the same interview.

Apple, meanwhile, might have room for even greater upside after its underperformance relative to the rest of the technology sector and the broader market.

"If we're in a bull market and the hallmark of this overall bull market is rotation, I believe Apple is setting up here for a nice catch-up trade. Look at some of its peers — Facebook breaking out, Microsoft breaking out, Google breaking out," said O'Hara. "It's a matter of time before Apple does break out … The catch-up trade will outpace the short-term momentum that Microsoft is seeing."

Disclosure: Joule Financial holds shares of Microsoft and Apple.

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