August 2010
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Day August 11, 2010

Apple growth trading at GE value

Speaking of correlation

General Electric, the largest holding in the S&P 500 Value Index Fund, has a forward price-earnings ratio of fourteen. Apple, the quintessential growth stock and largest member in the S&P 500 Growth Index Fund, sports a P-E based on forward 12-month estimates of just 15.5 right now.

via CNBC’s Fast Money : Growth Vs. Value Confusion as Apple, GE Treated Equally – CNBC.

The near-death experience prerequisite

All phone vendors saw smartphones coming.  They hired all the right market research companies and spent lavishly on analysts to confirm that phones with operating systems were imminent.

Nokia was one of the early movers, establishing its own software platforms group as early as 2002 while others like Samsung licensed Windows Mobile or PalmOS as early as 2003. Yet not much happened to sales. The number of smartphones units sold as percent of total has been fairly low.

The following chart shows the number of smartphones sold as a percent of all phones sold for the top three vendors (as of the time when the chart starts early 2007). Note that the percent of smart products shipped did not accelerate or grow dramatically for the largest two vendors even into last year.  It’s still a pittance at Samsung (<5%) and even less at LG.

The one vendor that did stage a shift was Motorola. (and Sony Ericsson, though later and softer) Both converts did this shift when faced with near-death experiences of sequential earnings losses and catastrophic market share collapses.

Nokia is showing signs of a secular shift to smartphones but it’s been a decade-long process so far, a slowness that ripped shareholder value to pieces.

So is the precondition for a shift to smartphone focus a collapse in the core business?  It certainly seems so from the data. Motorola first, Sony Ericsson second, Nokia presently and Samsung and LG later.

Each of these decision points reflect precisely the timing of pain points with the core businesses.

Why this asymmetry? At first glance, the smartphone business should be sustaining and an attractive option to be exercised as soon as possible.  It offers better margins, better prices and a better return on capital.

So why is there this disconnect? As regular readers of this blog can probably guess, my hypothesis is that the smartphone business is disruptive.  Incumbents are motivated to ignore this business because it makes money in ways they cannot control. More importantly, their best customers are signaling (in non-transparent ways) that they don’t want their top vendors to participate in this market.

Is an iPhone worth 8 Nokia phones or 2 Blackberries?

Pricing is a leading indicator of value. Some might argue price and value are often out of whack but, in the long term the two converge.

So it’s instructive to measure how a vendor creates value by what it’s able to charge for its goods. In the case of mobile phones, price is summarized by something called ASP (average selling price) which is measured each quarter across a vendor’s entire portfolio.

Again, there might be local fluctuations, but the trend is your friend here.

Take a look at these charts I prepared based on the group of seven vendors I previously analyzed in terms of their sales and volume performance.

First, a history of pricing since Q2 2007. All figures are in US dollars current as of time of reporting.

In phone sales, RIM plus Apple equals Nokia

Following up from the last article on the global phone units sold over the last three years (Visualizing the winners and losers of three years of smartphone share growth), we take a look at the sales in dollar terms over the same period.

Remember that in the article on units, the pure-play smartphone entrants HTC, RIM and Apple grew from a combined unit share of 1.3% in Q2 2007 to a combined unit share of 7.7% in Q2 2010.  That’s a 6 fold increase in volume share. Quite remarkable for companies lacking the vast resources and industry connections of the incumbents.

However, when we look at their performance in value (dollar sales) vs. units sold, the performance of the entrants begins to look miraculous.

US as epicenter for mobile data utilization

Japan and Korea have further 3G reach but use it significantly less.

His findings support notions that Android and iPhone are controlling data use in the US. The iPhone’s current exclusive home, AT&T, and Android-favorite Verizon both make up 75 percent of American data use

via Smartphone data use up 50% in just six months | Electronista.

Is there any surprise that in the country where the iPhone and Android are most popular there is the highest data usage even though it has one of the poorest mobile data infrastructures in the developed world?

What does that say about the importance of the device (and not the network) to the adoption of data services.

There are implications about the relative power shift between operators and device vendors. Within the mobile value chain, as mobile data overtakes mobile voice, the economics and value propositions will shift. The motivation of participants will begin to diverge and a schism will occur.