In his third “The Critical Path” podcast, Horace Dediu explained how Apple’s cash can be viewed as a strategic option, an opinion that resonated also with other analysts . Cash is one of the most flexible resources as it can convert quickly into other resources such as brands, companies, technologies, people and even processes. More cash means more strategic flexibility. The large cash reserve Apple has accumulated provides high flexibility for future investments. These characteristics of cash already imply an intrinsic option value. But how big is this value?
Calculating Option Value
To help us determine, I will apply the Black-Scholes model.
Samsung no longer reports mobile phone shipments. The company’s phone market performance reporting is limited to the following:
Shipment : High-20%↑YoY (low-20%↑QoQ)
ASP : Slight increase QoQ
As the company did not report volumes or ASP last quarter either, the QoQ (Quarter on Quarter) growth estimates are almost useless. The only fragment that might be useful is the “High-20% YoY” given that they did publish units for Q3 2010: 71.4 million. This leaves the question of what “High-20%” means. Here are some ranges and what the result would be:
- 92.1 million assuming 29% YoY growth
- 91.4 million assuming 28%
- 90.1 million assuming 27%
There has been increasing chatter about a new TV being developed by Apple.
My opinion on the subject was summarized in the post called Tele Vision. I contend that a TV cannot be smart until the content it delivers becomes smart. The logical conclusion is that the value chain needs re-integration so that the component which is not good enough (the content) can be improved along the dimensions that users value. And it cannot be improved unless the direction it needs to go into is aligned with the direction of the disruptive innovator. I won’t repeat the theory here, but it suffices to say that whatever will change television will do so by re-defining the core product not just the tools we use to consume it.
But today I wanted to address another question: how do we value the opportunity? In a back-of-the-envelope manner, can we tell if this business is big enough to try to fix.
The answer depends a lot on the business model of the disruptive entrant. The entry could depend on software or advertising or hardware or distribution, and each would have a different valuation.
But for the sake of calibration, I want to start with a proxy. The basic question of how many “terminals” exist to the value networks. How many units of TVs are sold and how many could a new entrant convert to a new paradigm?
I prepared the following chart showing the world-wide TV market with a highlighted subset of so-called “smart TVs” (source TRi). The market is shown from 2010 actuals through 2014 estimates. To make it more interesting I also added similar data for two other markets. Mobile phones and PCs with their own sub-categories of smartphones and tablets as equivalent “high growth” opportunities.
When considering the opportunity, the Smart TV volumes are small relative to either tablets or smartphones.
Prior to the third quarter earnings report I discussed a part of Apple’s balance sheet related to tangible assets (Plant, Property and Equipment). In a series of three posts I covered the Land and Buildings (data centers and campuses), Leasehold Improvements (store investments) and Machinery, equipment (tooling and factory equipment as well as servers.)
The data shows that there is a consistent pattern of investment in pursuit of strategic goals: extending reach into distribution through stores, extending services through cloud infrastructure spending, and extending control over the supply chain. One story that still remains largely untold is how much does Apple know in advance what it will spend.
In other words, can we tell if Apple can anticipate demand and does it plan its expansion well in advance?
For an answer, the 10 K report comes in handy. Published only once a year, this document shows some data that is not present in any other public release. For example, Apple makes forecasts for capital spending.
But first, an update.
Episode #11 • October 26, 2011 at 12:00pm
Dan and Horace talk about patents and litigation as a means of defending innovation. We go way back to the beginning of the last century and talk how patent wars have played out in the past and how they affected the fortunes and fates of innovators.
This episode is sponsored by Squarespace and TinyLetter.
IMPORTANT: I made an error in claiming that Mauser litigated for royalties during WWI. The litigation with Mauser preceded the war, but the bullet design used in the rifle was the subject of litigation before, during and after the war. The story of that patent fight is described here: The Tale of the Spitzer Bullet Patent Lawsuit | asymco
To read more about the Wright Brothers patent war see: The Wright brothers patent war – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia