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Is Android responsible for Apple's deep market discount?

At last night’s closing price Apple was trading at a P/E of 16.3. Excluding cash that ratio was at 13. On a conservative forward basis (my estimates) the stock is priced at less than 10 times next twelve months’ earnings.

These figures show a remarkable pessimism that has persisted around Apple for years. It was slightly, but not much, worse during the great recession. It persisted whether the company was growing at 30% of, as now, 95%.

There are many hypotheses about why Apple’s earnings and growth are considered worthless. They come and go with the whims of the age: recession, elitist, luxury branding, health issues, macro “headwinds”, earthquakes, phantom competition.

Lately it’s become fashionable to blame Android. That’s a curious thing to me, because Android has been discussed at length here and it has been shown to be, for the time being, benign. Apple has not “lost sales” to Android as it has been selling all it can produce. In some ways it’s been a boon as a co-belligerent against non-consumption.

The argument that the discount is in effect because of the future of Android has one first strike against it: the fact that the market does not often discount the distant future. Capital markets are notoriously incompetent in spotting disruptions and often reward those who are failing right up until the bitter end.

But let’s take the “Android hypothesis” (i.e. that Android is causal to Apple’s share price) seriously and analyze it. How could the impact be measured?

Since Apple is trading at a fraction of (a) historic multiple (b) multiple based on growth (c) comparable companies’ multiples then we can assume that a “normal” valuation would be twice the current (i.e. a multiple of about 32). That would still be a discount to growth and history but it would begin to match some of the comparables. A doubling of the P/E would be a good start.

But a multiple of 32 would imply a doubling of market cap, which means that the Android hypothesis is causing the evaporation of about $300 billion in future profits. So it stands to reason that it’s responsible for a $300 billion destruction of Apple shareholder value.

That’s an interesting number since Google itself is only worth about $169 billion.

The measurement then presents a remedy: If Apple bought Google (it already has a third of its value in cash) and it shut down Android, it could create $300 billion in value. If could even throw away all of Google and still walk out with a profit.

Seems like a great bargain.