Category Financial

Apple Assurance

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.[1]. 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:

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 5.13.27 AM

  1. The P/E ratio is the primary indicator in this analysis []

Breaking the Law

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.

Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 12.21.00 PM

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[1]

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.

  1. Enabled by design for jobs to be done. See non-technology markets for abundant evidence of this. []

The Critical Path #140: Apple Earnings Call

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.

The S&P 499

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[1] 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%.

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 8.43.53 PM


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.

  1. Algebra []

Apple’s Growth Scorecard

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.

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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.[1]

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.

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 5.35.43 PM


  • The iPhone was announced eight years ago and it still managed to grow at the rate of 57%.

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 5.47.11 PM

  • 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.[2]
  • Such is the plight of the anomalous.
  1. Some of the expansion in earnings per share is due to the willingness of shareholders to sell their shares to Apple. 10% of the shares around in 2011 have thus disappeared. []
  2. As measured by P/E or FCF/EV ratios vs. direct rivals, technology companies or the S&P 500. []

Retail in 2020

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.

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 10.34.30 AM

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.[1] 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.

  1. There is also the matter of in-store discovery and advertising via NFC and bluetooth i.e. iBeacon []

How big is iCloud?

Apple has declared that what used to be “Other Music Related Products and Services”[1] plus “Software, Service and Other Sales”[2] which was formerly known as “iTunes/Software/Services”[3] 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.

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 5.11.47 PM

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:

  1. Includes revenue from sales from the iTunes Store, App Store and iBookstore in addition to sales of iPod services and Apple-branded and third-party iPod accessories. []
  2. Includes revenue from sales of Apple-branded and third-party Mac software, and services. []
  3. Includes revenue from sales on the iTunes Store, the App Store, the Mac App Store, and the iBooks Store, and revenue from sales of AppleCare, licensing and other services []

How many iOS devices will be produced in 2015?

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.[1] 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:

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 2.39.35 PM

  1. Including an iPod touch estimate of 9.5 million []

Cash exceptionalism

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:

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 8-18-2.09.00 PM

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?”[1]

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.

  1. The grey and black area of the last column is the total “cash returned to shareholders” and sums up to the $74.5 billion mentioned earlier. The grey area is only theoretically valuable as it depends on the outstanding (i.e. not retired) shares retaining their value. In this case, the value of the shares grew, making this an actual gain for shareholders []

Best guess for how many iOS devices will ship in 2014

In October 2013, at the end of its last fiscal quarter, Apple stated:

The Company’s capital expenditures were $7.0 billion during 2013, consisting of $499 million for retail store facilities and $6.5 billion for other capital expenditures, including product tooling and manufacturing process equipment, and other corporate facilities and infrastructure. The Company’s actual cash payments for capital expenditures during 2013 were $8.2 billion.

The Company anticipates utilizing approximately $11.0 billion for capital expenditures during 2014, including approximately $550 million for retail store facilities and approximately $10.5 billion for other capital expenditures, including product tooling and manufacturing process equipment, and corporate facilities and infrastructure, including information systems hardware, software and enhancements.

These 10K (fiscal year annual) forecast figures for capital expenditures are shown in the following graph. Note that they also include the fiscal years from 2006 to 2012. Note also that the graph includes the actual expenditures (in green).

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 5.37.57 PM

From 2006 through 2013 the sum of the forecasts was $23.445 billion while the sum of the expenditures were $24.662 billion. With the exception of a carry-forward in 2012, the forecasts are broadly in-line with expenditures, with about 5% more spent than forecast.

This pattern of accuracy in spending makes a $10.5 billion expenditure during the current fiscal year believable. In other words, taking the forecast at face value, and given that three quarters of the fiscal year have already passed, what does it imply for the current and last quarter? The following graph shows what Q3 spending should be relative to previous quarters (and 2011, 2012 and 2013).