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Day February 15, 2010

Into the Mind of a Windows Mobile User

What are we to make of the new Windows Phone 7 Series?

First, we have to distinguish it as a new platform. Let’s use Microsoft’s new naming conventions and call it “WP7S” as distinct from the current Windows Mobile 6.5 aka “WinMo”.

Steve Ballmer said they will continue to “invest” in WinMo presumably in parallel to the WP7S platform. This is an interesting development since although there might be some interoperability of applications, the new platform will likely have a new set of APIs.

What strikes a follower of the WinMo platform is that the new WP7S is orthogonal in its positioning. Whereas WinMo was for either hard core, ROM burning, .cab-editing geeks, or for corporate suits, the new WP7S is going for the Xbox, Facebook ADHD hipster user. Perhaps Microsoft is also going for the “average” user though that did not come through the presentations.

So these two constituencies (geek vs. socialite) are quite distinct and a product that pleases one won’t please the other. Evidence of this is the fact that many existing users are feeling dejected over the absence of true multi-tasking, the locked memory cards, the lack of compatibility with the old UI and apps, and the overall “dumbing down” of what they thought was a haven of nerdiness in a sea of iPhone hype.

If Microsoft pours more resources into the new WP7S at the expense of the WinMo platform then we can assume they are “firing” their loyal geek users. Frankly, they are a difficult set of customers whose advice tends to steer a product into ever-more complexity and over-service.

This sets up a potential schism repelling the geek set toward Android and the corporate set perhaps sliding toward iPhone.

That would leave Microsoft in a quixotic pursuit of iPhone users without the benefit of an ecosystem.


Apple's Valuation Dredging Bottom

The fact that AAPL is less valuable — in terms of the P/E ratio — than the average S&P 500 company continues to baffle me.

Apple’s P/E is a bit misleading because of the price “P” a large part is cash which should not be considered “at-risk” capital.

The logic of a P/E ratio is to measure how many years it might take to recover one’s investment. The cash on the balance sheet is not at risk for this calculation. Therefore the Enterprise Value /Free Cash Flow is a more accurate measure of company value creation. Until the recent re-statement the FCF and Earnings were divergent. They have since become equivalent.

Therefore, if you take cash out, (currently $43/share) the Enterprise Value / Free Cash Flow for Apple is about 15. It had bottomed at 7 (now that we have restated data we can go back and re-calculate this).

The graph above shows the traditional P/E in blue and the EV/FCF in grey (using restated financials).

On a forward basis the EV/FCF is probably around 12 to 13.

Also of note is that Apple’s EV/FCF is lower than the S&P 500 (at 23.52 at the end of Q4 2009.)

If we continue to use the S&P as a comparable, I looked up the estimates for quarter-end P/E for the S&P 500:

12/31/2011 17.15

09/30/2011 18.35

06/30/2011 19.97

03/30/2011 21.61

12/31/2010 23.00

09/30/2010 24.43

06/30/2010 22.57

03/30/2010 21.54

12/31/2009 23.52

Apple EV/FCF (and also traditional P/E) are lower than S&P on current and forward bases.

How do we read this? Is the market considering that Apple’s prospects are less than the average large company? This does not quite make sense to me. What other theory could be at work to explain this valuation?

S&P estimates are sourced from:http://www2.standardandpoors.com/spf/xls/index/SP500EPSEST.XLS