Jul

24

 I heard something on NPR this morning (from the CEO of Mashable) which got me thinking about Apple. Consider: Back in the early 1980s, Apple was flying high–it occupied the high margin section of the emerging PC industry and it was making lots of money. Its CEO Steve Jobs was seen as a major entrepreneur. However, by the mid 1980s, Apple had lost its way, as it maintained its margins even as it lost market share. Jobs had been jettisoned in favor of someone with no computer industry marketing experience. Apple maintained many of Jobs' hires as Apple saw its market share shrivel. The high flyer then was a software company whose offerings ran on a host of hardware platforms–Microsoft. Everyone could use Windows and everyone could use Office. Now, fast forward a generation: Apple is again flying high, determined to hold its profit margin even as it loses market share. But there's a new kid on the block offering a mobile operating system used with different hardware platforms: Android. And Jobs is no longer running Apple. And Apple is again run by someone lacking computer industry (or consumer electronics) marketing experience.

Looking at this picture, I have to wonder if it isn't deja vu all over again. Now, I know that Apple has gazillions of cash that it can use to buy companies, but I'm looking at which of its acquisitions has been that helpful to its bottom line. Not much help that I can see. Kind of like Cisco during and soon after the dot-com boom and bust. Lots of money, not much to show for it. Its products are looking dated (and some products, like AppleTV, haven't appeared at all), several products have been introduced though they no longer elicit the oohs and ahs that characterized the products commanding the profit margins associated with Apple. Its execution on the software side has been little short of awful (the cloud in particular is something Apple doesn't get), and it no longer commands the attention of young engineers in the manner that it once did. And while it's PE is low, there's nothing to suggest that earnings will stay healthy, particularly if profit margins give way.

Is history repeating itself?

Gary Rogan writes: 

Apple is followed by zillions of super-smart people who track every available piece of information, many in real time. It also has a lot of moving parts and a lot of very smart people working for them. I doubt it's feasible to make money by out-thinking them all without some identifiable edge.

anonymous writes:

Didn't they say the same thing about Japan in the mid 80's?

Gary Rogan responds: 

Did Japan have a P/E of 10 and down almost 50% from its recent peak? There doesn't seem to be either irrational exuberance or irrational despair about AAPL but there is frenetic interest. It's latest numbers resulted in some pretty healthy volume after hours and a reasonable jump. Who knew how much it would jump and in which directions? Someone probably did, but it wasn't on the basis that Apple doesn't get the cloud. The point is, if there was ever an efficient market this is it. Not always, not for all time, but for here and now.

Jeff Watson writes: 

Isn't every stock that's not on the Pink Sheets followed by a bunch of super smart people who get tons of info in real time? Do you think the market makers have a pretty good estimate of the value of the stock? Don't insiders in their particular companies know if their stock is too cheap or too expensive? Just because AAPL is a cultist type of phenomena, please don't ascribe mystical powers to the stock. It's going to do what it's going to do, without any regard for the super smart people who follow and trade it. In fact, personal experience tells me that the super smart people are going to feel the most pain.

Gary Rogan retorts: 

I don't ascribe any mystical powers to it at all. It's a stock constantly in the spotlight. In my experience, there are "sleepy" stocks and there are highly followed stocks, in the sense of constant attention being paid to them everywhere. The market seems less efficient in the stocks that are not in the news all the time. If you have a long time horizon, and the highly followed stocks is showing signs of a mania, it may be a good short candidate, and the opposite if there is widespread despair, but it's hard to know. Of course it will do what it will do, I never claimed otherwise, but ruminating that their CEO, who at some point was in charge of worldwide sales, doesn't get marketing or the company doesn't get the cloud, or that Jobs is dead, or that there is this new kid on the block called Android would get you about as much as edge as me claiming that the world population is growing and needs more wheat and therefore going long wheat.

David Lillienfeld weighs in: 

Let's deal with these one at a time, and keep the emotion out of it.

First, Tim Cook was EVP for Sales and Operations, but insofar as he's never held a marketing position in his career (certainly not as long as he's been at Apple), this position seems as much organizational as anything else. His marketing value-add seems to be pretty small, if not nil. Fact. Cook's role has been manufacturing, and he executed pretty well. But that's quite a ways away from marketing, I think you'll agree. There isn't any report suggested that Cook has ever had any involvement in marketing other than this title, and one must note that at the time Cook was placed into the position, Jobs was handling marketing himself. Fact.

Right now, Android is doing to iOS exactly what Windows did to Mac OS in the 1980s. Fact. Apple kept a closed system and IBM/Microsoft an open one. Guess what. The open system won. When the Mac came out, one of the things seen in its favor at the time was that, much as happened with the Apple 2, there was software around to run on it. Same thing today–except it's now in the form of the App Store. Again, fact. We're now seeing the same thing happen in mobile. Google may not be able to monetize Android, but that's probably a matter that will be dealt with once someone figures out how to monetize mobile. (That's opinion, but one I think is supported by facts.) Do you deny that Android has taken market share from Apple, that it's more widely used than iOS, or that iOS doesn't seem to have much place in the low margin East Asia market? Moreover, Apple focused on maintaining margins rather than going after market share–both during the 1980s and also during the recent period. Fact. Earlier, that turned out not to be the way to success. Fact.

As for Apple being followed, that's irrelevant. Apple was heavily followed in the first half of the 1980s. I remember it well. By the latter half of the 1980s, it was no longer followed because it was in the process of becoming irrelevant in the face of Windows. By 1997, the company was on the verge of bankruptcy with 90 days of payroll in the bank. Fact. That's hardly the setting for a followed enterprise. Successful companies are followed. When success disappears, so does the following.

Lastly, if you think Apple gets the cloud, then I suggest you review how Apple's efforts in that space have fared compared with its competitors. I know of few who would opine in favor of Apple's efforts, even the cultists. Let's not forget that fantastic roll out of Apple Maps. Fact. Enough said.

I also noted that Apple has lots of money to work with, but then again, back in the early 1980s, it did too. (It's worth remembering Microsoft was similarly fortuitous–and well followed–and I don't know that it has a similar following today as it did in years past.)

That a generation has grown up since Apple's last appearance in similar circumstances of adulation also suggests that the younger minions may have forgotten that Apple's earlier escapade didn't result in hegemony–far from it. Fact.

As for Jobs, the reality is that since Jobs died, Apple hasn't functioned anything close to what it did when he was around–and he was active until about a month prior to his death. Fact. He may have picked the management team to succeed him, but much as happened back in the 1980s, without Jobs, that team didn't perform well. The contrast with, say, Alfred P. Sloan or Andrew Carnegie, or John D. Rockefeller, or David Hewitt or Adolph Ochs, or Robert Noyce or … I could go on, but the one thing that separates this group of CEOs is that when they stepped down as CEO, it took at least two generations of managers after before the company hit much of a bump. That's the mark of a great CEO–in addition to what happened to the company on the CEO's watch. Jobs didn't do so well with it in the 1980s, and it appears he didn't do so now.

If you don't like the facts, that's fine. Don't like them. But those are the facts. I'll leave the other elements of your comments for some other time.

But let's stick to the facts.

anonymous writes:

Let's cut to the chase. Tell me the long term growth rate of AAPL's earnings and I'll tell you (+/- 10-20%) what the stock is worth today. The bloomberg consensus growth rate is 19%, so the stock is worth about 1090/share.

If you cut it to 10%, the stock is worth 512/share.If you use a 5% long term growth rate, the stock is wroth 340/share.

The primary reason that 19% is wrong is that AAPL is simply too big to grow at that rate — or it would suck all of the oxygen out of room. At 442, it's priced for about a 8.25% growth rate. Not crazy, but 8% is still a lot of growth for such a big company. But their buyback can provide a lot of help in achieving EPS growth. BUT — the chart looks good! 


Comments

WordPress database error: [Table './dailyspeculations_com_@002d_dailywordpress/wp_comments' is marked as crashed and last (automatic?) repair failed]
SELECT * FROM wp_comments WHERE comment_post_ID = '8526' AND comment_approved = '1' ORDER BY comment_date

Name

Email

Website

Speak your mind

Archives

Resources & Links

Search