"The Apple Conundrum": Why One Fund Is Not Buying The iKool-Aid
Looking at the parabolic rise in AAPL shares in the past 3 months one would imagine that the company's product line up, so well telegraphed over the past several years, has changed, or at least has found a way to cure cancer, while expanding margins, and also providing loans to cash-strapped US consumers to buy its products exclusively. Truth is nothing substantial has changed - we have merely seen a ramp as every hedge fund and asset manager jumps on the Apple bandwagon (we fully expect at least 250 funds to hold Apple as of March 31: at least 216 were in the stock as of December 31 and then even Dan Loeb jumped in after) which is fun and games on the way up, but pain and tears when the bubble finally does pop. Many have attempted to warn the public about the latest manic phase of Apple expansion, but few have succeeded - such as the the reality of bubbles: they pop when you least expect them. Yet giving it the old college try, here is Obermeyer Asset Management's John Goltermann with an extended commonsensical approach to his perspective on the company with two main growth products, and why unlike everyone else, he is not buying the iKool-Aid.
Some excerpts from the letter:
Most members of the Obermeyer Asset Management team use Apple’s products and highly respect the company and its achievements. We recognize that it has built a cult-like following of both technophiles and ordinary users who aspire to own its latest and greatest gadgets. We recognize the elegance of its platform, the ease, convenience and life-enhancing attributes of its apps, the effortless delivery of media content and how it has even transformed entire industries. We recognize the style element of owning Apple devices, we recognize the status that people derive as Apple users and we understand the mystique the company possesses in the way it operates.
Given our shared appreciation for Apple as a company, why aren’t we making a place for it in client portfolios? We generally separate current and prospective investments into three broad categories: Yes, No and Too Difficult. In the case of Apple, we see this investment as Too Difficult. Let us explain:
With a market value of $550 billion, Apple now comprises 4.4% of the S&P 500 index and, all by itself, is larger than the entire utilities industry. With 932 million shares outstanding, every dollar move in Apple’s share price represents nearly $1 billion in net new capital flowing to its shares. For context, the median company size of those in the S&P 500 is $12 billion, so a 2% move in Apple’s stock is the equivalent of adding a whole new company at the median value to the index.
Since December 31st, Apple’s market value has increased by $172 billion, which is roughly the size of Johnson & Johnson, a large, well-established, innovative healthcare and consumer products company with a 125-year history. Johnson & Johnson has enjoyed many successes, has reinvested high levels of profit and is investing to expand its divisions, products and businesses. Apple attracted the same amount of investor capital in two and a half months that Johnson and Johnson attracted in its entire 125-year history.
Apple launched its first iPad in April 2010 and is now on its 3rd version, so the iPad has about a two-year shelf life for the company (it might milk a few more years out of each version, but the company’s business model is to continually launch new product iterations and slash prices on the older versions). Though it’s not disclosed in the financials, a guess would be that the new iPad will sell 26 million units its first year and 14 million in its second. If each version of the iPad earns $260 per unit, then Apple investors can expect somewhere in the range of $10 - $15 billion in total pre-tax profit for this newest version of the iPad. Unless investors thought Apple’s stock was way too cheap before the new iPad announcement, they seem to be expecting much more value to be delivered to shareholders from the iPad launch than can be reasonably be delivered by sales of the iPad device itself. The $172 billion increase in the company’s value far exceeds the approximately $15 billion that will come from the iPad, so it will have to come from something else. We don’t know yet what that “something else” is.
When we look at our cash flow models, assuming Apple can maintain its current operating margins (a heroic assumption in the face of increased competition in the tablet market), to justify the current stock price, it appears to us that Apple will have to sell about $2.6 trillion worth of total products and services over the next ten years. Last year’s revenues (for the fiscal year ending 9/24/11) totaled $108 billion. If Apple’s margins shrink, it will have to sell a lot more. This level of Apple product sales will make up almost 1.5% of U.S. GDP (of course it also sells products outside of the U.S.). That means that with the average GDP per capita in the United States being around $50,000, each person must spend $750 on Apple products and services annually (since 30% of sales are domestic, this means that about $225 per U.S. citizen would go to Apple every year). Since not all 310 million people in America use Apple, those who do need to spend a lot more and the vast majority of those sales will need to be on devices because iTunes sales do not bring much profitability.
Like we said: no stories here. Just common sense.
Full letter (pdf)