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Day November 21, 2011

Is Innovation Valuable?

I began thinking carefully about Apple in 2005 when the stock was priced at around $55/share. I remember that the events which made me consider Apple in a different light were the launch of the iPod shuffle and the launch of the Mac mini. Both moves signaled to me that the company was serious about competing with non-consumption. At that point I thought that the company was a potential opportunity as an investment.

But I also remember that many people at the time thought that the stock price was too expensive. At $50, the company was much more expensive than the year before. The stock started 2004 at about $11/share. The reason it had climbed so much was that the iPod began to be a real world-wide growth phenomenon. Buying Apple was buying into the iPod and many said the price was unsustainable given such a strong dependency on fickle consumer tastes. It was a much riskier proposition than that of competitors like Dell and HP which made product for reliable buyers like enterprises.

Indeed, by 2006, the shine was off. In the first half of 2006 the stock collapsed from $85 a share to $50, a fall of 40%. It was becoming clear that with mobile phones taking on more music playing features, the iPod was not going to be a big story for long. What’s more, Apple had just announced that they were switching to Intel for the Mac product line. Investors saw just how vulnerable the company still was and considered that the Mac brand was in jeopardy as it transitioned to becoming a Windows-friendly machine.

However, in 2007 the company’s value recovered with the introduction of the iPhone. Suddenly there was a new product to drive sales. Nobody knew by how much or how but there was a sense that the iPhone was enough to keep Apple from oblivion.

Yet, again, in early 2008 the company lost 40% of its valuation. In a rather inexplicable period following the launch of the MacBook Air, the company’s shares went into free fall. Inexplicable because the company continued to deliver solid growth with 2008 calendar quarters showing between 32% and 155% EPS growth.

Then the recession came. It caused another 40% share price collapse. Growth slowed to a range of 11% to 61% during 2009. As the marco “headwinds” blew over, by the end of 2009, with the help of a lukewarm response to the iPad, the company’s value recovered to its 2007 level. In the mean-time its earnings more than doubled.

It may not appear to be the case, but throughout this volatile period, the investment thesis remained fairly constant: