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Are Apple’s investments in PP&E extraordinary?

In his recent posts Horace took a look at Apple’s fixed assets and their development over the recent years. He also tested the hypotheses that Apple is making investments into machinery & equipment on which iOS devices are produced by overlaying iOS volumes with preceding changes in property, plant and equipment (PP&E).

The question that has arisen is: Are Apple’s investments in PP&E extraordinary?

To answer, I have compiled the capital expenditures (CapEx) for our previously established peer group [1].

But first we need to clarify what CapEx include and not include. CapEx includes investment into property, plants, equipment, office furniture, larger IT hardware and in some cases patents; CapEx do not include investment into long-term marketable securities or other long-term financial instruments, acquisitions or capitalized R&D. Furthermore, CapEx are gross values and are not net of any sold equipment [2]. CapEx are largely depending on a company’s business model and strategy. For example if you are a manufacturer you need equipment to operate, if you are a software company or a retailer, your business will not be capital intensive.

As the second calendar quarter of 2011 is the latest quarter for which all companies have reported figures, we will take a look at last twelve months’ (LTM) figures from Q2/2011 backwards. The following stacked bar chart shows the combined CapEx of our peer group:

 

The combined capital expenditures of our peer group for the LTM CQ2/2011 have outpaced even pre-crisis levels of investments and, combined, account for $34.7 billion. Samsung, a diversified manufacturer of IT hardware and other equipment, has invested more than $11.6bn with Google ($5.1bn), HP ($4.4bn) and Apple with $3.4bn following in line. While Google’s CapEx mostly account for its infrastructure of server farms and other IT hardware, HP’s CapEx mostly account for IT hardware it leases to its customers [3]. In absolute terms, Apple takes fourth place in CapEx spending for the last twelve months ending in CQ2.

Since the business model and sales magnitude varies largely in our peer group, we can also take a look at a common measure to compare CapEx intensity by dividing CapEx by sales achieved in the same period. For the last twelve months we can depict the following chart:

 

The average of the peer group accounts for 4.4% of CapEx over sales. Samsung’s and Google’s business model are clearly more capital intensive, while Apple’s CapEx ratio of 3.4% is below the peer group average but above some of its peers like Nokia, Dell, LG, HTC or Motorola Mobility. Interestingly, capital intensity of HP, Apple, Sony, Microsoft and Amazon is at a comparable level of around 3.4%.

As noted before, business models and strategies are significantly different among companies in our peer group. However, while Apple’s CapEx intensity is not extraordinary, Apple’s CapEx in absolute terms are among the largest in it this peer group and have grown constantly throughout a five year period.

Is this a good thing and why does it matter?

CapEx by itself does not tell us much. We still do not know in what companies specifically invest as financial regulations do not require detailed CapEx accounts. We know that even if a company is not growing assets they need to be maintained, upgraded and replaced – this spending is also called “Maintenance CapEx”. Everything else can be called “Expansion CapEx” associated with new product launches, entry to new business area or geographies or expansion of (manufacturing) capacity.

Therefore, Expansion CapEx is closely linked to expected organic sales growth in the future. So let’s go ahead and link CapEx ratio of the previous years with the sales growth of the following year. The following chart shows the cumulative average growth rate (CAGR) over the last four years versus the average of CapEx/sales ratio of the four last preceding years:

 

We can see that high CapEx efficiency has been achieved by Amazon, Apple and HTC with sales growth rates of 33-47%. RIM reached similar revenue growth but with higher CapEx intensity. Google and Samsung with high CapEx intensity have only reached modest growth rates. Dell, HP, Microsoft and Sony have not grown significantly but have close to average CapEx intensity.

We cannot state that CapEx in absolute terms have been extraordinary for Apple, but we can witness that with below average CapEx/sales ratio Apple outgrew in absolute terms Dell, LG, Microsoft, Nokia and Sony and has grown close to the revenue size of Samsung and HP in the last four years.

Notes:

  1. Excluding Lenovo (not reported) and Acer (extra-ordinary low numbers reported, to be investigated), Motorola Mobility figures only available for the last six quarters
  2. Minor differences may occur due to local Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP)
  3. HP assumes ownership of these assets and rents them to the customers who in turn have a smaller balance sheet and can run IT hardware CapEx through the income statement as lease expenses