Saturday, October 19, 2013

Apple BDSM - $AAPL


For the purposes of this blog posting, BDSM refers to Bondage, Dominance, Sales and Marketing. 

The sub-text relates to 500 shades of greenback (dollars per share); delivering a market cap of about $450 billion to the largest, and most successful product, sales and marketing company on the planet, ever!

But there, I said it.  Apple $AAPL is a product company, despite Tim Cook’s desire to reposition Apple as a tech company.  This, mainly because its in-house, closed-shop, non-sharing technology development, is limited to a vertical integration strategy focused entirely on making Apple products work.  In other words, Apple engineers write code for their own products.

In fact, I’d go one step further – agreeing with Robert Frank of CNBC – that Apple is not only NOT a tech company, but actually a luxury brand.  However, I disagree with Frank's statement that “Apple has become a luxury brand first and a technology company second.”

Apple may well have become a luxury brand first, but it is a product company second and a technology company third.  The hiring of Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts lends some credence to the luxury brand hypothesis. But the word brand, by definition, defines the entire corporation, rather than its products only.

As an investor, I have held positions in Apple stock.  Buying dips and selling for gains.  I mostly used trailing stops to exit my positions automatically – for a profit – every time Apple’s stock took a bit of a nose-dive.

As an investor, I also continuously look to manage emotion, avoiding non-logical attachment to any equity, as best as I am able to.  So, let’s take an objective look at Apple, from a ROI point of view:

Bondage

Apple successfully holds the hearts, minds and body parts (fingers, eye, ears, etc.) of its clients in bondage. 

This tying up of clients is further complemented by a coolness factor that competitors could only aspire to having and/or achieving.  Moreover, Apple has a variety of subscription-based, recurring revenue streams that greatly benefit the corporation, in terms of ongoing sales, and continuous cash-flow.

But, how have Apple investors fared this year, holding onto their much beloved Apple stock?  Let’s compare Apple to Google $GOOG, Microsoft $MSFT and Yahoo! $YHOO.  These elected for the purposes of a comparison, regardless of the fact they are not actually true competitors to Apple; only limited similarity and/or debatable overlap in products:
2013 YTD ROI (via Google finance; click to enlarge):
$AAPL -4% / $GOOG +42% / $YHOO +70% / $MSFT +29%

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Dominance

Despite Apple’s relatively poor stock performance - purely from a return on investment point of view - the company’s dominance is unrivaled.  Of course, Apple has achieved great dominance in the U.S. domestic market.  And, global competitors would be happy to swap, since – despite U.S. political disruption and a seemingly great desire by DC politicians to play a part in redefining the American Dream – the U.S. still represents about a third of the entire global GDP!

So, let’s instead compare Apple’s stock performance to the other 3 largest US corporations, by market cap:
(Note: $GOOG market cap is larger than $BRK.A and $WMT, but $GOOG is already included above)
$AAPL -4% / $XOM +1% / $BRK.A +30% / $WMT +10%
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I realize that by redefining S&M, I may offend some BDSM aficionados.  But, I should probably stick to something I know a little better... rather than going into new subject matter blindfolded!

Sales

I am not going to bore you with Apple’s numbers taken from their financial statements.  Especially some which you may already know, or have a very good idea about!  But, by way of summary, Apple reported sales of around $160 billion last year, with gross income around $68 billion and EBITDA of $58 billion.

In fact, as an illustration of the whale-sized performance highlighted above… if one were to rank U.S. publicly traded corporations by market cap, Apple’s sales performance (2012) exceeds the entire current market cap of 15th ranked Bank of America ($BAC)!  Or, Apple's EBITDA equals Yahoo's total market cap... x 2!

Regardless of whether Apple should be viewed as a value investment or growth stock, their financials are such that investors will be in a good place for many years to come, regardless of the stock price.  Throw in a dividend of around $3/share, and it looks like a good value investment at the current price.

Many analysts have price targets ranging from $550-$650.  Remember, that with the stock trading at $500, that’s a projected upside of 10-30%.  And the stock is still relatively ‘cheap’ at $500 – don’t let the high sticker price fool you!

Can you better 10-30% ROI?  The real answer is... quite easily... but also by accepting more risk than parking some cash in Apple stock.

Marketing

Unfortunately, we lost one of the greatest marketers ever, with the passing of Steve Jobs.  Let’s face it, any company would have been negatively impacted by losing its visionary, one of its founders, and the person seen as the face and voice of the corporation.  Steve Jobs was Apple!

Subjectively, I’d add that Tim Cook simply cannot pull off the yuppie/hippy/trendy look of blue jeans and a black turtle-neck sweater, like Jobs had done before him.  Actually, I would prefer Tim Cook dressed in a suit and tie… i.e. I might take him more seriously if he were to dress like the CEO of the largest corporation on the planet.  But, I accept, that’s probably just me!

The good news for Apple is that once you achieve mind and thought leadership, added to dollops of coolness... marketing may become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  The products already represent the world's most recognizable brand; best products regardless of performance and/or deficiency; uber-cool to be seen with as accessories, etc.

Apple has achieved the above successfully, regardless of any possible counter-opinion.
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Apple as an investment?  I’m watching from the sidelines for now.  My equity investment portfolio, collectively, has comfortably outperformed $AAPL on a YTD basis, although it had included a position in Apple earlier this year. 

When the time to buy $AAPL presents again, I am likely to be tempted to get back in.  For now, I wish longs the best of success in achieving a stock price with a 6 (or even a 7) as the first number of the $AAPL stock sticker price, as soon as possible, in the very near future!

Disclosure: no positions in the stocks mentioned in this article