Why is an expert on disruptive technology “worried” about financial innovation?
Excerpt from “Chaos Is Hard to Predict”
Does technical innovation always end in displacement/ replacement?
The professions being challenged include physicians, lawyers, consultants, and analysts. Algorithms and sensors could conceivably displace some subset. However, it’s not a certainty. One way to fend off automation displacement is to redefine and change the scope of the profession.
The classic example is from the birth of the Industrial Revolution. As machines replaced certain tasks, new jobs were created which required higher skills and hence edu- cation, leading to universal matriculation and eventually the popularity of higher education. Professionals need to “invent” new jobs for themselves as a means to keep disruption at bay.
Read more: CFA Institute Magazine.
Apple is categorized as a vendor of consumer electronics. More specifically, a member of the “Electronic Equipment” industry in the “Consumer Goods” sector. If indeed this is what it’s thought to be selling, there is a problem because it isn’t what its customers are buying.
Apple’s customers buy a mix of hardware, software and services under a brand that assures a certain quality of experience. This bundling and integration of otherwise disparate things is why the brand is such a success.
This anomaly between what Apple is thought to sell and what buyers actually buy can leave the casual observer confused. As a result the company’s categorization as vendor of hardware deeply discounts its shares. It is, in other words a less valuable business. This is because a seller of consumer electronics does not benefit from “system valuation” since there is minimal loyalty to the product after the sale.
The consumer electronics vendor has no network to leverage, no ecosystem adding value after the sale, no platform and works through multiple levels of distribution to reach the customer. In contrast, a system vendor can expect benefits from network effects, ecosystems, and a coveted relationship with the end user.
The result is that the valuation of a consumer electronics vendor is based on the momentum of individual products. Apple has always been valued this way. Each hit product is considered to be a stroke of luck/genius and the chances of recurring are discounted to about zero. Regardless of the fact that it has a track record of “home runs”, Apple’s hit rate is not considered sustainable.. Certainly Apple is not valued as being able to generate reliably recurring revenues.
But what if we were to value Apple on the basis of what people are buying rather than what it’s thought to be selling?
The model is simple enough: determine the number of users, estimate the lifespan of the products, and figure out the services attached to the products; then, given the price, obtain a price per product per day. You then can get a recurring revenue figure.
I did just that and the results are in the following table:
For the first time in many years I feel that there is some potential uncertainty in the results Apple will announce. After a period of excellent accuracy (shown in graph below), the company’s guidance has begun to diverge dramatically from reality and the trend might continue this quarter. The cause might be unanticipated demand for the iPhone 6/6 Plus. The growth rate for the product was 46% in Q4 and 40% in Q1. This is unanticipated because growth rates have been below 20% for five quarters and below 50% for eight.
This slowing of growth was explainable given the rate of diffusion of smartphones in the global population. Within the US and some other early adopting economies the market is reaching late stages where most people have switched to smartphones. Globally we are at a more modest 30% or so but in many of the late adopting economies Apple does not have wide distribution.
Of course this thesis is thinly supported. There are many reasons to think that late adopters would still start with iPhone and that earlier adopters of Android would upgrade to iPhone after a few purchase cycles. Thus, the iPhone could prosper in later-adoption or even in post-saturation states of the market.
Indeed, in the post-saturation PC market, Apple is doing very well with the Mac and in the late to post-saturation MP3 player market the iPod did extremely well. This suggests that when it comes to value capture brand, experience and satisfaction trump function, price and share considerations in almost all consumer markets
With so many assumptions put asunder the iPhone business suddenly looks downright lively. I adjusted my own growth assumptions and the resulting figures are shown below.
In this special “live” version of The Critical Path, Horace gets the numbers just minutes before Apples January 27th, 2015 earnings call and dissects them live. The show picks up just after the call finishes with a quick recap and discussion of yet another record quarter.
via 5by5 | The Critical Path #140: Apple Earnings Call.
Thomson Reuters reported that excluding Apple, the entire S&P 500 grew profits at a rate of 4.4%. Including Apple the figure is 6.4%.
Using one weird trick I calculated the value of profits generated by the S&P 499 (i.e.the largest public companies excluding Apple) in Q4 2013 and Q4 2014.
Apple therefore accounted for nearly 8% of the S&P 500 in the last quarter. A year earlier Apple was a mere 6%.
It should therefore be obvious why Apple’s P/E ratio is 16.1 while the S&P 499 P/E ratio is 19.8.
Apple’s Net Sales grew at the rate of 30% in the last quarter. Earnings per share grew at 47%. Both of these figures are the highest since 2012.
It should be noted that although the rate of growth is extraordinarily high, the company never actually stopped growing in the past three years. As the table above shows, net sales has always had positive growth.
Compared with the fourth calendar quarter of 2011, Apple’s sales are 61% higher and earnings per share are 54% share.
This degree of growth at this stage in the history of the markets it participates in is a revelation.
- The PC market is more than 30 years old. In this mature market the Mac has been outgrowing the Windows platform for 34 out of the last 35 quarters.
- The iPhone was announced eight years ago and it still managed to grow at the rate of 57%.
- The market shares of its Mac, iPhone and iPad products are all remarkable only for their paucity.
- The pricing of all their products is more than double the median for their categories.
- Regardless of extreme growth, pricing power, headroom and, most importantly, customer loyalty, the company’s prospects are seen as dismal in contrast to its underperforming peers.
- Such is the plight of the anomalous.
This year’s Thanksgiving and Black Friday data from IBM shows a continuing pattern of growth for mobile devices. As the graph below shows, in the five years since 2010 mobile devices grew from 5% of the online shopping traffic to 50%. Traditional computing (desktop and laptop) made up the difference.
The graph also shows that sales value via mobile devices crossed over 25% of online spending. The fact that mobile shopping is not equal to mobile spending is due to the convenience factor of mobile. It’s more likely that users will spend idle time scanning for bargains or tracking down ideas from friends but wait until they are at home to make the final purchase decisions in front of a computer.
The transition to spending directly from a device is a slower process, but that process was also one that online had to undertake as buyers became comfortable with online commerce. When it comes to payment, buyers are understandably more cautious.
This does not change the prediction made last year that “the transition to post-PC consumption will also be practically completed by 2020”. That leaves six years for mobile saturation and a total transition time of one decade.
At that point I expect 90% of browsing and perhaps 75% of spending to be happening on devices. Some of this will undoubtedly be enabled by biometric authentication as shown by Apple Pay. Trust and ease of use in this technology will undoubtedly accelerate the transition making mobile payments more comfortable and secure than on the legacy computer.
What is less predictable is how much those devices will also be used to transact payments for the physical retail stores. In some scenarios it’s possible that by 2020 a majority of all shopping will be enabled by devices. That would subjugate the retail segment to the power politics of mobile platforms.
It is interesting therefore to note the mix between the platforms in the graphs above.
Apple has declared that what used to be “Other Music Related Products and Services” plus “Software, Service and Other Sales” which was formerly known as “iTunes/Software/Services” is about to become “Services”.
“We’ll also have a category that we refer to as services and this will encompass everything we report under the heading of iTunes software and services today including content, apps, licensing and other services and beginning this month it will also include Apple Pay.”
“Services” will therefore encompass a massive amount of revenue. The reported revenues for the fiscal 2014 were $18 billion. Including all billings, the turnover in sales is over $28 billion. For next year, assuming that Apple Pay, which is just getting started, is unlikely to contribute greatly to revenues, Services turnover will top over $35 billion. That figure would make Apple Services alone one of the top 90 companies in the Fortune 500.
Regardless, as a component of overall sales, the group formerly known as iTunes/Software/Services (shown in red above) was a modest 7% of total sales in the last quarter. Using all available information regarding downloads, payouts and reported financials, an estimate can be obtained on how this 7% is itself divisible into nine sub-segments:
12 months ago I asked How many iOS devices will be produced in the next 12 months?
Based on the analysis of Capital Expenditures (as forecast by Apple in their annual 10K report) I concluded “iOS unit shipments should be between 250 million and 285 million.”
The answer turned out to be 247 million. Including Apple TV the total would probably be around 251 million.
Since last year, I adjusted my model by observing corresponding iOS unit shipments for the calendar year corresponding to each fiscal year. Since the calendar year is offset by one quarter (FQ1 = CQ4) looking at calendar year means looking forward one quarter post-spending. I believe this is more accurate as spending generally happens in advance of production.
The resulting pattern is shown below:
Prior to implementing a dividend and share buyback plan, Apple had accumulated about $120 billion in cash and marketable securities. In the eight quarters since implementing the cash return plan, Apple has paid about $21.5 billion in dividends and spent another $53 billion of its shareholder’s money buying its own shares and retiring them. That’s $74.5 billion in cash that’s been removed from its balance sheet.
To avoid some repatriation taxes it also borrowed about $29 billion.
Of course, in the meantime, it also generated cash from operations.
Before the plan’s implementation, eyeing the cash allowed for easy tracking of the accumulation of retained earnings. After the plan it’s become a bit more complicated. The following graph shows all the quantities involved:
The graph lets us answer the question “What would have happened if Apple had not paid any dividends, bought back shares and taken on debt?”
The answer is in the blue line. It would be about $210 billion today. There are about a dozen companies other than Apple worth more than that amount.
As the company is not growing as quickly as it used to, the slope of the blue line is constant (i.e. it’s nearly linear.) Though that might be seen as evidence of failure, it’s more useful to treat this vast quantity as a recognition of past successes. The company’s beleaguered status needs to be carefully preserved.