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Day July 31, 2012

Asymmetric Competition

Thanks to Angel Lamuno for sending me to a dry and boring lecture by Dr. Israel Kirzner from Feburary 1988. It got me thinking again about competition and how confusing it can be.

The lecture was in part about how the word “competition” is used by economists with directly opposing meaning from that of the layman and how that leads to confusion about the role of free markets.

I won’t dwell on that, but instead I want to explain how this word can also be contradictory in meaning when applied in everyday usage in business analysis. Nowhere is this more evident than when we argue whether Apple competes with X or Y or Z.

Does Apple compete with Android or Google or Samsung? How could Apple compete with Google and yet cause it to be the default search engine in Safari thus enriching their competitors? How could Apple compete with Samsung and yet select their semiconductors for the heart of its most important and profitable product? And how could the people across the table from Apple agree to terms on these deals while being sued by them?

Some have tried to characterize this situation as “coopetition” or the co-habitation of conflicting strategies for a balanced optimum. I find this characterization uncomfortable and unsatisfying. The balance sought will be very fragile and change daily and no optimization is practically possible. It seems contrived.

Rather, I think about these situations as examples of asymmetric competition. This is competition where companies are rivals but they have different definitions of the basis of competition. In a way, they are like gladiators who have weapons which cannot be brought to bear or wielded effectively to counter the opponent’s.

Consider the following question: does the iPhone compete with the Galaxy SIII?

Estimating third and fourth quarter iOS shipments

In the 2011 Annual Report(10K) published October 26th Apple states:

The Company anticipates utilizing approximately $8.0 billion for capital expenditures during 2012, including approximately $900 million for retail store facilities and approximately $7.1 billion for product tooling and manufacturing process equipment, and corporate facilities and infrastructure, including information systems hardware, software and enhancements.

The history of these expenditures is shown below (the blue bars are statements from 10K reports including the one above shown as the right-most bar): Three 10Q reports so far this fiscal year have given us updates on asset values and the change in these values are shown as the right-most yellow bar. The asset value change suggests $3.9 billion has been spent so far of the $7.1 billion budgeted. Thus we can estimate that about $3.2 billion remains to be spent in the fourth fiscal quarter (thus bringing the yellow bar to parity with the blue bar in the chart above–a parity that was achieved or exceeded for five out of the last six years).

Assuming $200 million of the fourth fiscal quarter budget will be for land and buildings[1] results in an estimated $3 billion remaining for product tooling and manufacturing process equipment and data centers.

The history of spending for various cost centers is shown below.[2]