Posts tagged ‘goog’

Digging for iPad Gold with Simplicity

We live in a hyper global competitive world, yet some companies manage to find gold while others unsuccessfully dig for their dreams. What is a major determinant of great companies? Apple Inc. (AAPL), and other companies, may include “simplicity” as a key ingredient. Take the iPad for example. Already the company has successfully exceeded iPad sales target thanks to the shrewd marketing of the simple touch-screen technology. Some call it a glorified iPhone because the iPad uses a very similar interface on a larger scale. Nonetheless, the device is getting rave reviews from the likes of US Today, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Newsweek, and as Stephen Colbert smartly pointed out in his video (below), the iPad even makes salsa to boot.  Many estimates point to more than a half million units sold in the first few weeks, making the 2010 estimates of 3-4 million units sold likely too low.

CLICK HERE TO SEE IPAD VIDEO

Competition Not a Game Killer

How much more competitive can the personal computer and cell phone markets be? According to the United Nations, we will reach 5 billion subscribers in 2010. With pricing pressure galore, and new Asian competitors popping up all over the place, how can companies grow, let alone make profits? Ever since the revolutionary iPhone was introduced in 2007, rivals have attempted to copy-cat the device. In the meantime, Apple continues to gain market share while they sit on close to $40 billion in cash, not to mention the flood of new cash rolling in the doors ($10+ billion in free cash flow generated in calendar 2009).

Innovation and the Remote Control

One key driver of profitability is innovation, but an elegant solution driven by an out-of-touch engineer with consumer demands will only lead to share losses and headaches. I mean how many times have you pulled your hair out trying to navigate through a 100-button TV remote control or screamed in frustration from attempting to learn a non-Wii videogame?

But Apple is not the only company to find simplicity in its quest for profit domination. In order to be a massive juggernaut like Apple Inc., a company’s product or service must gain mass appeal. A key determinant for mass appeal is simplicity. Beyond Apple, think of other dominant franchises that also operate in massively competitive markets like Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) in retail; Starbucks Corp. (SBUX) in coffee; Google Inc. (GOOG) in internet advertising; Coca Cola Co. (KO) in soda; Netflix Inc. (NFLX) in video rentals, among a host of other category killers. Many of these corporate giants offer products we cannot function or live without. I still find it utterly amazing that my children will never know what life was really like without an internet search on Google or a Caffe Misto Caramel Frappuccino from Starbucks.

All Good Things Come to an End

It’s not clear how much longer these titans of corporate America can thrive. By innovating new products that improve lives in some way, these Dancing Elephants will continue to prosper. But nothing in the stock market is static, so investors should pay attention to several potential derailing factors:

  • Valuations: Valuations are extremely important in determining long-run appreciation potential, and chasing winners solely based on momentum (see related article) can lead to problems.
  • Market Share Losses: What will be the next computer, cell phone, or e-reader killer? I don’t know right now, but eventually the day will come where these leaders will lose market share to a new kid on the block.
  • Rising Costs: Competition is not the only factor in leading to slowing sales and declining profit margins. Inflation either related to labor or other input costs can crimp profits and decay investor appetites.
  • Too Big to Succeed: There has been a lot of talk about “too big to fail,” but I strongly believe companies reach a point where they become “too big to succeed.” Either the law of large numbers catches up with these companies making simple math more challenging (think of the supertanker Wal-Mart growing its $400+ billion revenue base), or regulatory scrutiny kicks in (think of Microsoft Corp. [MSFT] and Intel Corp [INTC]).

Size: Peeling More of the Onion

Success can continue for these giants, however at some point “size” becomes a headwind rather than a tailwind. Just as simply as a train can speed down a railway at over 100+miles per hour, under the right conditions the train can derail as well. As Warren Buffett states, when referring to a company’s growth prospects relative to size, “Gravity always wins.”

However, investors should remind themselves that gains can last longer than expected too. Finding “ginormous” winners in many ways is like finding a needle in a haystack. But even if you find the needle in the haystack relatively late in a company’s growth cycle (see Equity Life Cycle story), in many instances there can be a lot of appreciation potential still available. Take Wal-Mart (WMT) for example. If you bought Wal-Mart shares after it rose 10-fold during its first 10 years, you still could have achieved a 60x return over the next 30 years.

 Time will tell if Apple will strike additional gold with its iPad introduction, nonetheless Steve Jobs has found an element present in many long-term successful companies…simplicity.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

*DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds and AAPL, WMT, GOOG, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct positions in MSFT, SBUX, KO, INTC, NFLX, Nintendo or any 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.

April 16, 2010 at 1:04 pm Leave a comment

Google: The Quiet Steamroller

As Google Inc. (GOOG) has proceeded to steamroll most of its competition on the global advertising roads, they are learning to tread a little more lightly in hopes of avoiding unneeded scrutiny. There are very few places to hide, when your company is on track to achieve more than $20 billion in annual sales and is valued at more than $175 billion in the marketplace.

As Google revenues continue to rise and they look to take over the world (including their position in China), they are enlisting others to assist them in Washington as well. Through three quarters of 2009, the company increased their lobbyist budget by 41% to approximately $3 million, according to the Associated Press (AP).

Google Eating Bite Sized Acquisitions

Ever since the controversy caused by Google’s $3.1 billion takeover of web advertising network company DoubleClick (2007 announcement), and the failed joint search agreement with Yahoo! (YHOO) in 2008 due to government and advertiser concerns, Google has decided to consume smaller bite-sized companies as part of its acquisition strategy. Over the last five months alone, Google has acquired eight different small companies (generally less than $50 million acquisition price), including the following: 1) Picknik (photo editing website); 2) reMail (mobile search applications); 3) Aardvark (social networking focus); and 4) AdMob ($750 million mobile advertising network deal). Eric Schmidt, Google CEO, has stated he would like to do one smaller-sized acquisition per month. Google management also believes they have lowered the inherent risk in these smaller deals because of legacy ties to target companies – all these sought after companies house former Google employees, says Bloomberg.  In addition to remaining below the radar, the string of small deals act as a supplement to Google’s hiring practices, which can become challenging in a scarce qualified engineering hiring environment.

Microsoft Pot Calling Kettle Black

Microsoft (MSFT), the behemoth software giant with monopoly-like market share in the PC operating system market, is now fighting back against growing giant Google. This effectively amounts to the pot calling the kettle black, given Microsoft has already paid about $2.44 billion in fines to EU (European Union) relating to antitrust actions in the past 10 years, according to TechCrunch. Nonetheless, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is not shy about throwing Google under the bus, stating Google is not playing fair in the search market.  Furthermore, Microsoft has filed an antitrust complaint against Google in Europe as it relates to Ciao, an online shopping service powered by Microsoft, and cried foul over an agreement Google made with book publishers and authors on a separate project.

Google is not stupid. They have witnessed massive monopolistic companies like Microsoft and Intel (INTC) butt heads with regulators and pay billions in fines. Needless to say, Google will do everything in its power to avoid additional, unwanted oversight, while quietly driving their steamroller over the competition.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds and GOOG, but at time of publishing had no direct position in MSFT, INTC, YHOO,  or any other security referenced. 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.

March 9, 2010 at 11:30 pm 1 comment

Dancing Elephants in a Challenging Economy

To many, the significant rebound in global equity markets, since the March 2009 price lows, has merely been a dead-cat bounce or simply a temporary “sugar high” from the extraordinary fiscal and monetary measures taken by governments all over the world. John Authers, columnist at the Financial Times, captures that cycnical view in his daily column. He believes we are on the cusp of financial dynamics that will “drive a bear market for another two decades.” Ouch – pretty harsh outlook.

Perception Can Differ from Reality

Throughout much of 2009, the better than anticipated corporate results were rationalized as improvements only coming from discretionary cost-cutting. Well, as of last week, 73% of the S&P 500 companies that reported quarterly results exceeded earnings expectations, with 70% surpassing revenue estimates as well. With the 9.7% unemployment improving (at least temporarily), the recovery cannot solely be attributed to cost-cuts.

In the midst of the economic recovery (+5.7% growth in Q4 GDP), other animals beyond deceased felines have joined the party, including dancing elephants. More than seven million jobs have been lost since the late-2007 recession began, yet a broad set of companies have thrived through this horrible environment. The bubble economy has certainly had a disproportionately negative impact on particular areas of the economy (e.g., housing, credit, and automobiles). However, in the midst of the global credit tsunami that engulfed us over the last two years, the largest global economic engine (U.S.A.) was still churning out about $14 trillion in the sales of goods and services. Many companies that were not reliant on the financial and credit markets used their superior competitive positioning to generate significant piles of cash. Instead of piling on additional debt (or diluting owners through share offerings), certain corporations tightened their belts, invested prudently, and stepped on the throats of other irresponsible and reckless competitors, which were forced to recoil back into their caves and bunkers.

Dancing Elephants

Times are tough, right? If that is indeed the case, let’s take a look at a few elephants that are trouncing the competition, even under extremely challenging economic circumstances:

Apple Inc. (AAPL) – Revenue growth +32% ($182 billion market capitalization):  In the recent quarter, Apple pounded the competition by selling a boatload of electronic goods, including iPhones, iPods, and Mac computers. Next up, the iPad!

Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) – Revenue growth +42% – ($53 billion market capitalization):  In the fourth quarter ending December, Amazon pulverized peers in a cutthroat holiday by selling lots of Kindles (e-reader), growing +49% internationally, and adding a new Zappos.com shoe and accessory acquisition. Organic revenue growth (ex-Zappos) was still incredibly strong at about +23%.

Corning Inc. (GLW) – Revenue growth +41% – ($28 billion market capitalization): Results were buoyed by demand for its liquid crystal display (LCD) glass as consumers continued purchasing LCD televisions, laptop computers, and other electronic devices. In addition, GLW experienced a resurgence in demand for its emissions control products as the auto industry rebuilt supply. Telecom orders in China were solid also.

Google Inc. (GOOG) – Revenue growth +17% – ($169 billion market capitalization):  In addition to the growth in the global search advertising market and YouTube video platform, Google also accelerated the deployment of their mobile platform, including their Android cell phone operating system, and concentrated on the expansion of the display advertising market.

Gilead Sciences Inc. (GILD) – Revenue growth +42% – ($42 billion market capitalization): Growth was catapulted by GILD’s dominant HIV/AIDS product franchise, including Atripla, Truvada, and Viread. Pulmonary arterial hypertension drug Letairis and chronic angina treatment Ranexa also contributed to stellar results.

Intuitive Surgical Inc. (ISRG) – Revenue growth +40% – ($13 billion market capitalization): This cutting-edge surgical equipment manufacturer enjoyed robust expansion from continued robotic procedure adoption and higher da Vinci Surgical System sales.

Intel Corp. (INTC) – Revenue growth +28% – ($113 billion market capitalization): The company’s semiconductor sales growth was fairly broad based across its major segments (Data Center, Intel architecture, Atom Microprocessor/Chipset) as demand recovered and depleted inventories were replenished globally.

Netflix Inc. (NFLX) – Revenue growth +24% – ($3.5 billion market capitalization): Netflix added more than one million new customers in the quarter as they continued to eat Blockbuster’s-BBI (and other competitors’) lunch. In addition, the company’s streaming “Watch Instantly” service continues to gain traction.

Although I do currently own a few of these companies, do NOT interpret this partial list of companies as “buy” recommendations – in fact, some of these stocks may be excellent “short” ideas. Regardless of how sexy growth may be, investors should never ignore valuation (read more about valuation). As stated at the beginning of the article, I mainly want to emphasize that trillions of commerce dollars are being transacted, even in demanding economic times.  It just goes to show, one can turn lemons into lemonade. Or said differently, even elephants can be trained to dance.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds and AAPL, AMZN, and GOOG, but at time of publishing had no direct positions in GLW, GILD, ISRG, INTC, BBI, and NFLX. 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.

February 14, 2010 at 11:36 pm Leave a comment

Google vs. China: Running Away from 660 Million Eyeballs?

Wait, let me get this straight. Google, the $185 billion behemoth that wants to take over the world is seriously considering turning its back on a rapidly growing cluster of 660 million eyeballs (330 million Chinese internet users according to BusinessWeek)? After hitting their head on an obscenely high market share in the U.S. (67% search share based on Nielsen data) and looking for new geographies to expand, I’m supposed to believe Google will walk away from the third largest economy on this planet (see China: Trade of the Century)? The explanation given for Google’s capitulation is discontent related to unknown hackers and censorship concerns. If that’s not enough, this alleged saint-like posturing comes after Google sold its censorship soul for years, before seeing the free speech light. Although the company’s mission is to “do no evil,” Google had no qualms aggressively poaching Microsoft (MSFT) miracle maker, Kai-Fu Lee, to kick-start their Chinese presence. If free speech is truly at the root of the Google’s unease, then why wait four whole years and a hack-attack before laying down an ultimatum on the Chinese government?

I Smell a Rat

In a blog post written by Google’s Chief Legal Officer, David Drummond, the company explains how their iron curtain digital defense was bent but not broken:

“We have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Based on our investigation to date we believe their attack did not achieve that objective. Only two Gmail accounts appear to have been accessed, and that activity was limited to account information (such as the date the account was created) and subject line, rather than the content of emails themselves.”

 

I’m no exterminator, but I smell a rat. All this feels a lot more like politics and business tactics then it does an altruistic display of free-speech martyrdom. The Chinese government and Google executives know what is at risk, as they both play a high stakes game of “chicken.”

Google goes onto say:

“As part of our investigation we have discovered that at least twenty other large companies from a wide range of businesses–including the Internet, finance, technology, media and chemical sectors–have been similarly targeted.”

 

I’m confused. These unknown hackers attacked 20 different companies and only unsuccessfully cracked two Gmail accounts. The evidence sounds pretty harmless on the surface, if this language is representative of reality. Maybe I’m wrong, and a foiled cyber-attack is reason enough to cease operations in a country inhabiting a potential 1.3 billion customers.  

Sure China represents a relatively small portion of Google’s revenues (estimated at less than $1 billion and a single digit percentage of revenues), but Google would be insane to walk away from this massive long-term growth market, even if Baidu (BIDU) is currently eating their lunch. Although Google has a smaller #2 position in China, it still has a respectable 35.6% search market share (according to BusinessWeek).

Not Just About Search – Cell Phones Too

Even if they claimed they were throwing in the white towel on their Chinese search business, I don’t think they really want to flush their newly minted cell phone prospects down the toilet. Even if 275 million or so cell phone users in the U.S. is fertile ground for Google to target their new Android-based phones, I’m guessing they have penciled out the gigantic mobile potential of the rapidly expanding 700 million+ Chinese mobile phone user market.

While I can’t take the scenario of Google ceasing China operations off the table, I consider the chance of Google shutting its doors in China significantly less than 50%. While the bold Google statement of feasibility review regarding their Chinese business existence has gained a lot of attention, I think calmer heads will eventually prevail and Google will resume their targeting of 660 million Chinese eyeballs. Who knows, the high stake game of “chicken” may even benefit their bottom-line as they win the hearts and minds of more future free-speech users.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own GOOG shares and China based exchange traded funds at the time of this article’s publishing, but did not have a direct position in MSFT and BIDU shares. 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.

January 14, 2010 at 12:31 am 2 comments

Equity Life Cycle: The Moneyball Approach

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Building a portfolio of stocks is a little like assembling a baseball team. However, unlike a team of real baseball players, constructing a portfolio of stocks can mix low-priced single-A farm players with blue chip Hall of Fame players from the Majors. Billy Beane, the General Manager for the Oakland Athletics, was chronicled in Michael Lewis’ book, Moneyball. Beane creates an amazing proprietary system of building teams more cost-efficiently than his deep-pocketed counterparts by statistically identifying undervalued players with higher on-base and slugging percentages. According to Beane, traditional baseball scouts were overpaying for less relevant factors, such as speed (stolen bases) and hitting (batting percentage).

In the stock world, before you can scout your team, you must first determine where in the life cycle the company lies. If Beane were to name this quality, perhaps he would call it Time-to-Maturity (TTM). Some companies operate in small, mature bitterly competitive industries (e.g. shoe laces), while others may operate in large growing markets (e.g. Google [GOOG] in online advertising and algorithmic search). Some companies because of negative regulation or heightened competition have a very short life cycle from early growth to maturity. Other companies with competitive advantages and untapped growth markets can have very long life spans before reaching maturity (think of a younger Coca Cola [KO] or Starbucks [SBUX]). Like Beane talks about in his book, many young, promising, immature baseball players flame out with short TTMs, nonetheless many scouts overpay for the cache´ such players offer.

Unfortunately, many investors do not even contemplate the TTM of their stock. Buying juvenile stocks (i.e., private companies like Twitter & Facebook – see article) or elderly stocks in and of itself is not a bad thing, but before you price a security it’s advantageous to know what type of discount or premium is deserved. Obviously, I’m looking for undervalued stocks across all age spectrums, however finding an undervalued, undiscovered late-teen just beginning on its long runway of growth combines the best of all worlds. Finding what Peter Lynch calls the “multi-baggers” is easier said than done, like searching for a needle in a haystack, but the rewards can be handsome.

Life Cycle

What creates long runways of growth – the equivalent of winning dynasties in baseball? Well, there are several contributors leading to longer TTMs, including economies of scale, large industries, barriers to entry, competitive advantages, growing industries, superior and experienced management teams, to name a few factors. But like anything, even the great growth companies, including Microsoft (MSFT), turn from teenagers to mature adults. As famed businessman Thomas Brittingham said, A good horse can’t go on winning races forever, and a good stock eventually passes its peak, too.”

There are many aspects to creating a winning team. If Billy Beane were to draw up factors for a baseball team, I’m confident TTM would be near the top of his list. What you pay for the length of the growth cycle is obviously imperative, but since I’m a strong believer in the tenet that “price follows earnings,” it only makes sense that above average sustainable earnings growth should eventually lead to superior price appreciation. As Bob Smith, successful manager from T. Rowe Price states, “The important thing is not what you pay for the stock, so much as being right on the company.” So if you want to recruit a portfolio of winning stocks, like Billy Beane picks successful baseball players, then include the equity life cycle maturity statistic as a factor in your selection process.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management nor its client accounts have no direct position in MSFT, SBUX, KO, Facebook, or Twitter shares at the time this article was originally posted. Some Sidoxia Capital Management accounts do have a long position in GOOG shares. 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.

October 15, 2009 at 2:00 am 8 comments

U.S. to China, “What’s Wrong With a Little Porn and Anarchy?”

The U.S. recently scheduled talks with the Chinese government to discuss the appropriateness of automated personal computer (PC) content filtering (including, pornography,  Falun Gong, and governmental protest content). Falun Gong is a meditatitve spiritual discipline frowned down upon by the Chinese government.

I can picture it now, U.S. officials calling up Chinese President Hu Jintao and saying, “Hey Hu, why not lighten up a bit on the freedom crackdowns  – what’s the big deal with a little pornography and anarchy?” The Chinese government feels that in the absence of structured laws, which would limit access to inappropriate content, the natives will become restless and ultimately disruptive. PC manufacturers would prefer not to reengineer PCs and increase the embedded costs to consumers by adding additional components. However, given the size of the Chinese PC market, the dominant foreign manufacturers are likely to cave to Chinese government demands, given the massive long-term potential of this Asian market. We have already seen Google (GOOG), Yahoo (YHOO), and Microsoft (MSFT) make concessions to the Chinese government in the algorithmic search arena.

Lord of the FliesThe thematic parallels presently occurring in China apply to William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (1954) as well. Lord of the Flies is a story about a group of stranded kids (surviving a plane crash) that battle for survival on a deserted island. Due to the lack of law, adult supervision and questionable tendencies, all hell eventually breaks loose. The Chinese government, managing a population of 1.3 billion people, fears a similarly hellacious outcome if an uncontrolled, lawless population consumes unfettered, unhealthy content. Given mistakes we’ve made abroad (e.g., Abu Ghraib, and Guantanomo), the Chinese and other countries are questioning the strength of our moral compass in judging or guiding other countries’ policies.

Although the U.S. government’s intentions are in the right place to protect the personal freedoms of people globally, we are not currently in the strongest moral position right now to cram our beliefs down other’s throats. Even the freest of societies such as our own limits certain actions – such as underage voting, underage drinking, and public nudity (O.K., I’m stretching a bit).

Regardless of your political views, one can appreciate the fear of anarchy in the hearts of the Chinese government. Practically speaking however, given the openness and rapid expansion of the global internet, the Chinese can only slow the expansion of individuals’ freedoms – recent events in the Middle East just provide additional evidence to this premise.

DISCLOSURE: At the time of publishing, in addition to owning certain exchange traded funds, Sidoxia Capital Management and some of its clients also owned GOOG, but  had no direct positions in YHOO, MSFT, or any other security referenced. 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.

June 23, 2009 at 5:30 am 1 comment


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