The list of tech companies that have lost their mojo is long. Think MicroSoft, Research in Motion (Blackberry), Yahoo and Netscape just to mention a few. Developments move at warp speed in the tech world. Success breeds complacency. MicroSoft’s “lost decade” could serve as business-school case study on the pitfalls of success.
That’s why Joe Nocera’s article in the last weekend’s NY Times is a must read. The article, titled Has Apple Peaked? , questions the future growth prospects of Apple. Nocera argues that the iPhone 5’s glitch with its new map application is a sign of more bad things to come. This wouldn’t have happened, Nocera says, with Steve Jobs at the helm. But even when Jobs was running the company, Nocera notes that Apple was becoming more territorial, while not focusing on product development and marketing. He uses the Samsung lawsuit as proof.
On the latter, I find Nocera’s argument ridiculous. The lawyers and the product engineers/marketers can work in parallel. Fighting for your patents does not preclude everything else. In fact, if successful in court like Apple was, then it only provides a cushion in other parts of the business.
In general, I say Apple is a must-owned stock for any investment portfolio with the size and risk profile to necessitate individual stock ownership. Beyond just a holding, it should be an overweight. The hysteria surrounding the products still has momentum. There are several other needle moving new product initiatives in the 5-year plan developed by Jobs. The next product launches will easily snap into the vertical integration that only continues to strengthen with each existing component sold. Furthermore, the China market is still largely untapped and products such as the PC still only command a market share of only around 12%, providing plenty of upside.
This doesn’t even include the fundamentals of the stock. Here, the numbers speak for themselves. A P/E ratio of 15 and a forward P/E ratio of 12 (these types of valuation ratios are comparable to stable and conservative “value” companies such as Healthcare stocks), operating margins in the 35% range that are unheard of, $52 billion in cash and other short term investments on the balance sheet, growth rate in earnings of 60% over the past three years, and a PEG ratio of 0.6 (anything below 1 is great).
Nocera presents some interesting points and the Apple story will peak some day, but not yet.