Chewing on Some Apple Pie
Apple pie is an unrivaled American dessert that optimally mixes the elements of dough, sugar, cinnamon, and apples. With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I can already taste that Costco (COST) apple pie that is about to snap my belt buckle open as I proceed to eat pie for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A different dessert of the stock variety, Apple Inc. (AAPL), recently received a sour reception after reporting its 3rd quarter financial results.
Despite reporting +27% year-over-year revenue growth and +23% earnings growth, investors have continued to spew the stock out as the share price has fallen from $700 per share down to $600 per share in about a month. With all this indigestion, is now the time to reach for the Tums or should we serve ourselves up another helping of some tasty Apple pie? Not everybody loves this particular fruity dessert, so let’s cut into the Apple pie stock and see if there is any dough to be made here.
Point #1 (Cash Giant): Apple Inc. is a profit machine with a fortress balance sheet. More specifically, Apple has around $121 billion dollars in cash in its checking account and generated over $42 billion in free cash flow in fiscal 2012. And by free cash flow, I mean the excess cash Apple gets to stuff in its pockets after ALL expenses have been paid AND after spending more than $8 billion in capital expenditures (including spending for their new 2.8 million sq. foot spaceship campus expected to open in 2015 and house 13,000 employees).
Point #2: (Brand): A brand has value that will not show up on a balance sheet, and according to Forbes, Apple’s brand is rated #1 on a global basis, outstripping iconic brands like IBM, McDonald’s (MCD) and Microsoft (MSFT). BrandZ, a division of advertising giant WPP, values Apple’s 2012 brand value at approximately $183 billion.
Point #3 (Product Pipeline): Apple is no one-trick pony. Apple’s iPhone sales account for about half of the company’s sales, but a whole new slate of products positions them well for the critical calendar fourth quarter period. Apple’s iPhone 5, iPad 3 (aka, “New iPad”), and iPad Mini should translate into robust holiday sales for Apple. What’s more, a +39% increase in Apple’s fiscal 2012 R&D (research and development) should mean a continued healthy pipeline of new products, including the ever-rumored new integrated version of Apple TV that could be coming in 2013.
Point #4 (Mobile & Tablets): Apple is at the center of the mobile revolution. There are approximately 5 billion cell phones globally, and about 2 billion new phones are sold each year. Of that 2 billion, Apple sold a paltry 125 million units (tongue firmly in cheek) with the market growing faster in Apple iPhone’s key smart phone market. As the approximately 500 million smart phone market grows to about 5 billion units over the next decade, Apple is uniquely positioned to capitalize on this trend. Beyond cell phones, the table market is bursting as traditional personal computer growth declines. Although Apple has made computers for 36 years, the company impressively generated +40% more revenue from fiscal 2012 iPad tablet sales, relative to Apple desktop and laptop sales.
Point #5 (Valuation): With all these positives, what type of premium would you pay for Apple’s stock? Does a +100% premium sound reasonable? OK, maybe a tad high, so how about a +50% premium? Alright, alright, I know you want a good bargain, so surely a +20% premium is warranted? Well in fact, if you account for Apple’s $121 billion cash hoard, Apple’s stock is currently trading at about a -22% DISCOUNT to the average S&P 500 stock on a P/E basis (Price-Earnings). You heard that correctly, a significant discount. If Apple is trading at a P/E discount, surely mature staple stocks like Procter & Gamble (PG) and Colgate Palmolive (CL), which both reported negative Q3 revenue declines coupled with meager bottom-line growth of 5%, deserve even steeper discounts…right? WRONG. These stocks trade at a 70-80% PREMIUM to Apple and a 35-40% PREMIUM to the overall market. Toilet paper and toothpaste I guess are a lot more popular than consumer electronics these days. Clear as mud to me.
Risks: I understand that Apple is not a risk-free Treasury security. Research in Motion’s (RIMM) rapid collapse over the last two years serves as a fresh reminder that in technology land, competition and obsolescence risks play a much larger role compared to other industries. Apple must still deliver on its product visions, and as the king of the hill Apple will have a big bulls-eye on its back from both competitors and regulators. Hence, we will continue to read overblown headlines about map application glitches and photographic purple haze.
In the end, a significant amount of pessimism is already built into Apple’s stock price (yes, I did say “pessimism” – even with the stock’s share price up +49% this year). If Apple can uphold the quality of its products and maintain modest growth, then I’m confident shareholders will happily eat another slice of Apple pie.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs) and AAPL, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct positions in COST, IBM, MCD, CL, PG, MSFT, WPP, RIMM, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.