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The role of capital [1]

At the end of 2011 Apple’s net property, plant and equipment (PP&E) was $7.8 billion. This reflects $12.34 billion gross PP&E net accumulated depreciation and amortization of $4.5 billion. The depreciation and amortization increased by a total of $533 million and the gross PP&E increased by only $572 million. I say “only” because in the previous quarter PP&E increased by $1.42 billion. If we assume that this growth is equivalent to capital expenditures for the quarter, it’s also a very small amount given the company’s stated intentions to spend $7.1 billion during the fiscal year.

The gap is illustrated in the following chart:

The blue bar in the 2012 year represents the company’s stated intentions (from the 10K). The Yellow bar in 2012 is what has been spent so far as measured by the change in reported asset values. Given that the company has been exceeding their targets lately, one should expect the yellow bar to reach as high as $8 billion after another three quarters.

Another view into this data is provided by the following chart.

The beige bars represent the quarterly change in asset value and the green bars are the depreciation expenses for the same quarter. This view also shows a significant slowing in spending.

In the past I showed that CapEx, especially spending on machinery, equipment and internal-use software correlates with iOS device production during the next quarter. It’s not a relationship that helps much in quarterly predictions due to the elastic nature of product transitions. There were quarters when spending and output were de-coupled, for example spending in March and June 09 quarters was far lower than one would expect for the 3GS launch quarters that followed.

We will have to keep an eye on the change in asset value to be reported for CQ1 to see how the spending ramps up during the year. At this time the company needs to spend at least $6.5 billion in three quarters or over $2 billion per quarter to meet its target for the fiscal year (ending October this year). We have to see whether and why Q1 (fiscal) was too low.

This discussion is also affected by the discussion on Apple’s other balance sheet item: cash and cash equivalents. The magnitude of its assets is staggering: $100 billion in cash, $7.8 billion in PP&E, $3.47 billion in acquired intangible assets (mainly patents), and $896 in Goodwill (acquisitions). With this much “capital” the company does not make use of any debt facilities.

In this regard Apple is also an apparent anomaly. As it gets subtracted out of indexes because it weighs too much or skews “reality” so Apple and its balance sheet is causing a warp in “time-space” of capital markets. The traditional relationship between financiers and operating companies assumed some form of symbiosis but as the credit crisis has shown some have not kept their part of the implied bargain.

So we have to ask yet another unsettling question: what is the value of capital markets when their products are commoditized by relatively unsophisticated CFOs?

Notes:

  1. This is the material accompanying the third case discussion at Asymconf. Participants are encouraged to read it at the material linked before the show.