Tech Titans: Performance Of Google Vs Apple Vs Microsoft

There was a time in 2012 when people were betting on Apple (AAPL) stock to reach $1000 before Google (GOOG). Since then Apple is down from it’s over $700 peak while Google is making new highs over $1000. In the mean while, Microsoft (MSFT) stock is up about 40% in one year while Apple is essentially flat.

So what changed? Which stock looks the best going forward? These are the questions I hope to answer with this article by looking at revenue and earnings growth for all three.

Revenue

5 year TTM Revenue change charts for Google show that in the last five years, Apple has handily beat both Google and Microsoft. But from the chart, it looks like Apple’s growth has flattened, while it hasn’t for the other two.

GOOG Revenue (TTM) Chart

Looking at the last one year, it seems both Google and Microsoft have Apple beat for revenue growth.

GOOG Revenue (TTM) Chart

Earnings

Apple’s 5 year earnings growth is equally impressive:

GOOG EPS Diluted (TTM) Chart

However, the last one year has been even worse for Apple earnings than it was for their revenues while Microsoft and Google have shown much better progress. Especially Microsoft.

GOOG EPS Diluted (TTM) Chart

Apple

So what happened at Apple? Well the answer to that is simple. Apple’s growth was tied mainly to the demand for iPhones and then iPads. In the last few years, Apple’s improvements to the iPhone have been incremental from the user perspective, especially considering the dramatic improvement in Android phones. The iPad also now has significant competition from other tablets.

The iPhone was introduced in 2007, the iPad in 2010. In theory, to keep up that spectacular growth that Apple has been enjoying, it would have made sense to launch a new line of products – an Apple television set or a significantly redone and completely re-imagined “magical” Apple TV box. Or something else.

Alternatively, Apple could have stepped up the competition by introducing a larger variety of phones, tablets and computers in different sizes. With it’s vast resources and ungodly amount of money Apple could have executed its product strategy better.

Apple is trying to improve margins by selling a premium priced, yet not made from the usual premium materials, iPhone 5c. It also marks a departure from their usual tactic of just making the previous generation the cheaper model. My personal opinion is that if they had kept the old iPhone 5 alongside the new iPhone 5s, nobody would have paid extra for the iPhone 5s. After all as far as the user goes, the only meaningful difference is the fingerprint sensor. I can’t imagine anyone paying $100 for that.

For the next iteration of iPhones, what I would like Apple to do, is have two product lines: the normal line and the “c” line and give the user screen size choices in both lines like this:
Normal Line: iPhone 6-4, iPhone 6-5 with the only difference being the screen size, the rest of the internals being the same
“c” Line: Similarly iPhone 6c-4, iPhone 6c-5 and if they really want to keep their low end phone as a 6c-3.

The iPhone just looks dated compared to the new 1080p screen 5″ phones from the competition. Similarly with the iPad. Keep the specifications of the 10″ and the mini the same except for screen size.

For computers, Apple really needs to start competing with convertible ultrabooks.

Short term, Apple will probably get a significant boost from it’s deal with China Mobile and the launch of the new iPads and iPhones in this quarter and I expect the negative EPS growth trend to slow down, if not reverse.

Google

As evidenced from the charts above, Google’s revenue and EPS have continued to grow steadily for the last five years and unlike Apple, there has been no perceptible slowdown in growth. Google is the undisputed leader in web search, online advertising and mobile advertising. Google also is the most innovative company on the planet, period. Also, Google brings in 10% of total worldwide advertising dollars. That includes all forms of advertising, not just internet based. Google is the undisputed leader of web adertising and also owns half of mobile ad revenue.

Unlike Apple, which focuses on a few products and services, Google goes in all directions at once, sees what sticks, and then develops on that. This makes Google a very agile company to meet customer needs. What makes Google unique is their acceptance of out of the box ideas, even in non-core areas such as self driving cars, being an ISP, generating green power etc.

Also finally, the fruits of their Motorola acquisition can be seen with the new Moto X and Moto G phones.

Going forward, I expect the same level of growth from Google as they take more global advertising dollars, launch more products and services and take market share from other online services like Facebook and enterprise products from Microsoft.

Microsoft

For someone who follows the media, the charts for Microsoft would be surprising. All we hear is that nobody wants a Windows Phone, Office products are being replaced by the cloud, mobile devices are eating Windows market share. But in spite of all this, Microsoft has surprisingly manage to grow both revenues and profits!

Microsoft also followed Google’s footsteps in acquiring a phone company, Nokia (NOK) and I think that is a great step forward for Microsoft as it attempts to compete with Apple and Google. I have covered Microsoft before and presented the view that Microsoft is the one company that competes with almost every tech company in some way and with the Nokia addition they just added to that list.

Even though the changed in Windows 8 were very unwelcome, I think Microsoft’s new unified strategy is a big step forward with one “Modern” interface across all product lines. I’d say it was the opposite of too little too late – too much too early.

Looking forward, with growing Windows Phone market share, growingenterprise product market sharesucces of the XBox One and growingBing market share – at the expense of Yahoo (YHOO), a growing cloud presence, fantastic new convertible Ultrabooks running Windows Microsoft seems to be turning around and their stock performance from this year might continue.

The Numbers

P/E P/S Ex Cash P/E Dividend
Microsoft 13.74 3.87 10 3%
Google 28.87 6.23 25.5
Apple 13.95 2.95 9.5 2.3%

It looks like Apple and Microsoft are currently similarly valued by earnings and Google is valued over twice as much. We can see that Google’s growth is steadier and higher than the others (with the exception of TTM EPS growth by Microsoft). This just about justifies the P/E premium that Google commands. Amongst Apple and Microsoft, the numbers logically make Microsoft seem the better bet for now. However, the impact of Apple’s new products remains to be seen.

Longer term, Apple needs a new line of products or significantly more diversification in their existing product lines. Just financial engineering as suggested by Carl Icahn is a mere distraction. Apple needs to get back to growing earnings and revenue.

Disclosure: Long AAPL, GOOG. May open a position in MSFT

My Thoughts On Pandora

Over the last few days, I’ve worked on analyzing Pandora as an investment.

See my thoughts here:

When And What Would It Take For Pandora To Be Profitable + Earnings Expectations – I attempt to predict when Pandora will be profitable and what it can do to be profitable.

An Analysis Of Pandora Before Earnings – I look at statistics of Pandora listeners, market share and other related statistics.

Rethinking Apple and Amazon – All About The Cash

This article also appeared on The Motley Fool.

Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) and Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) could not be more different in their corporate philosophies regarding profits and cash. Amazon spends almost every dime it earns, keeping the net profit down as close to zero as possible. Apple, on the other hand, keeps most of it as cash that just sits around doing nothing. As an investor, one would like some kind of balance of cash hoarding, returning that cash to investors, or reinvesting it in the business. So these two extremes make an interesting comparison considering the market reaction after earnings season: Amazon continues to rise, while Apple continues to drop.

So far, I’ve been of the opinion that Apple is a better investment, because it makes money — lots of it. However, Apple just hangs on to it, and then it does nothing for the company. Apple just started giving a minimal amount of that cash back to investors via dividends and buybacks, but not enough.

Also, Apple invests less in R&D (notice how even troubled Nokia outspent Apple) than most of its competitors. So it’s not even investing seemingly enough of its money back into its own business.

In fact, every few days someone writes an article on how Apple can use their cash better. Even I can think of a few suggestions, like doubling its dividend, becoming vertically integrated like Intel, or investing more in different lines of products or faster product update cycles. Not pursuing this latter strategy, and sticking to its guns on fewer product options, had been costing Apple market share to Android devices, which offer more size, storage, screen, and technology options.

Now, Amazon, on the other hand, has relatively little cash on hand. It chooses to invest heavily in expanding its infrastructure. Logically, the primary reason to run a business is to make money. If you are running a business for that purpose, the best thing to do with money earned would be to invest it back in the business — exactly what Amazon has been doing, and exactly the opposite of Apple. Most quarters, Amazon revenue is growing faster than the growth of overall online retail, which means it is taking market share.

Looking at both the stocks from this perspective, Amazon can look like a better investment, because it seems to believe in its business more than Apple does. Of course, Amazon is an extreme case. Most tech companies hoard cash. But almost everyone seems to be managing it better than Apple.

Just to see whether this theory held water – I made a chart looking at gross profits instead of net — because as far as Amazon goes, its microscopic net margin doesn’t seem to matter to investors. I’m generally all about the net profit, but to offer some insight into Amazon’s meteoric stock price, maybe the gross profit will work better.

Looking at the chart, Amazon looks like it is increasing revenues and gross profits, while consistently keeping constant gross margins. Amazon doesn’t look bad at all until you factor in the net income.

So Apple has Amazon beat in everything except stock price. This means that as far as Amazon is concerned, this extreme spending for expansion at the expense of current profit is desirable to investors, because Amazon is doing something useful with its cash. And that means that everybody expects Amazon’s strategy to pay off at some point. Amazon does have a lot of room to grow, which might be true considering their revenue is still only 12% of that of Wal-mart.

So even though subjectively there might be some logic to “Amazon misses but stock soars“, there is relatively less logic, looking at the chart, to Apple’s stock drop. However, looking beyond the chart. Apple can be seen as the opposite case of Amazon.

In spite of having more cash than it could ever need, Apple is losing marketshare to the plethora of Android devices. Apple possibly needs to spend more and get ahead, instead of resting on their existing laurels. So you could say that their cash is mismanaged. They have too much, and are neither giving it back to investors, nor investing it in their business.

I’m still long Apple for now, and avoiding Amazon, though. I’m not sure how long Amazon can continue making no money . It has been going at this strategy for a long time, and it is time to start making more money. Apple seems to learn its lesson, just like it did with the iPad mini. There’s still plenty of market for Apple to enter into, even with existing products.

Disclosure: Long AAPL, INTC, NOK

Investing in the Future of Mobile Devices Part 2 – Components and Software

This article also appeared at The Motley Fool.

In Part 1, I covered a couple of device makers along with CPU and graphics chip makers. In Part 2, I’ll cover software and the components that matter the most.

After all nobody cares if they have a dual core or quad core or 1GHz or 1.5GHz processor other than geeks like me. What people care about is how cool the display looks and how easy is it to get to the features they use most or what software ecosystem.

Let’s start with screens. There are few screen manufacturers that can make mobile device screens in large volumes. They are Samsung, LG, Sharp and Japan Display. Japan Display is a jointly owned by Innovation Network Corp of Japan, Sony, Toshiba and Hitachi. Samsung is the largest maker of mobile displays amongst these, followed by LG. Sharp as a company is in trouble but they do have good screen technology and potential investment suitors in the form of HonHai/Foxconn and Apple. Samsung Display was recently spun off as an independent but still wholly owned subsidiary of Samsung Electronics. LG Display (NYSE: LPL) is a publicly traded company but it is 38% owned by LG Electronics.

Next up – memory. This is just one more category (NAND Flash) where Samsung is the largest manufacturer. This is getting to be a theme. Samsung is the world’s largest manufacturer of a lot of things. Anyway next in line after Samsung are Toshiba and Micron (NASDAQ: MU) and SK Hynix. Micron is quickly closing in on second place Toshiba as it breached the 20% market share barrier last year.

As for Flash cards, Sandisk (NASDAQ: SNDK) is the largest manufacturer followed by Samsung, Toshiba, Transcend and Kingston (2011 rankings). Flash manufacturer rankings are a complicated mess which is evident from the glaring absence of Sandisk from the general NAND flash rankings above. So it all depends on how you look at it.

Other than Flash Memory (the quoted number 8GB, 16GB, 32GB etc. for phones), phones also have RAM (which is similar to the memory on your computer). Another top spot for Samsung, followed by SK Hynix, Eplida and Micron. So the same old. Which is strange considering the top spot for all DRAM (including PCs) is held by Kingston.

 

The five year chart for all US traded companies mentioned above shows memory makers faring better than LG Display. However, looking at their income growth doesn’t look promising. The stock prices have been rising a lot faster than income.

 

Let’s look at operating system software next. Smartphones and tablets run mostly on iOS and Android. The other operating systems in the running are Blackberry, Windows, Symbian and Samsung Bada. Nokia still makes Symbian phones but is slowly turning that into the featurephone OS and Windows into their smartphone OS.

As iOS and Android dominate and Microsoft tries to muscle in, the future of anything else including Blackberry is uncertain. So investing in the future of mobile software presents you with the obvious choices of Apple and Google along with Microsoft. I would consider Research in Motion (NASDAQ: RIMM) a risky proposition until Blackberry 10 devices hit the market at which point the response to those would be a good judge of the continues survival of the company. If the reaction is anything like the reaction the Windows Phone 7, that would spell doom for RIMM. Symbian is officially being gimped as Nokia is betting on Windows. In fact as of now even the future of Nokia is uncertain, but they just might make it. I will not bother you with the depressing charts for either of them but lets just say you should avoid them unless you have a tolerance for risk. Let’s just say Apple, Google and Microsoft, all of which I’ve covered previously are your only real choices for investing in software.

In Part 3 I’ll cover more device makers and mobile applications.

Disclosure: Long AAPL, GOOG, NOK

Analyzing Apple’s Guidance

This article also appeared at The Motley Fool.

In Apple’s (NASDAQ: AAPL) Investor Conference Call, CEO Tim Cook and CFO Peter Oppenheimer talked about the company’s new method of issuing guidance. This is what their release said:

Apple is providing the following guidance for its fiscal 2013 second quarter:

• revenue between $41 billion and $43 billion
• gross margin between 37.5 percent and 38.5 percent
• operating expenses between $3.8 billion and $3.9 billion
• other income/(expense) of $350 million
• tax rate of 26%

When asked about the range as opposed to the point guidance, Peter Oppenheimer said that Apple will be within the range “as best as they can” so the range is no longer the conservative guidance that we are used to. This is a welcome change as it will hopefully end the guessing game every quarter.

The one thing missing compared to previous quarters is EPS guidance. But Peter Oppenheimer told Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray that he could figure out the EPS from the numbers above. Walter Piecyk of BTIG has done the math for us and come up with $9.23 – 10.23. This is a bad sign for Apple and not including the number was in poor form.

The conference call twice eluded to being able to sell more if they made more. Now personally I call that an ego problem at Apple causing them to shift away from Samsung. Steve Jobs is dead. Time to stop the war against Samsung (and Android in general). In fact there were several other ego related tidbits in the conference call such as

The iPhone 5 offers as you know a new 4-inch Retina display, which is the most advanced display in the industry and no one comes close to matching the level of quality as the Retina display. … So, we put a lot of thinking into screen size and believe we’ve picked the right one.

– Tim Cook

When other phones start getting 5″ 1080P screens, the retina display on the iPhone5 is outdated. In fact it is even outdated compared to old previous generation phones with 720P displays like the Galaxy Nexus. Also, whatever they believe, people want choice. The Apple attitude – “if you want the latest features get the biggest phone” is probably causing people who like smaller screens to stick with the older iPhone 4S. People want all sizes with the latest specifications. And people who are already used to and prefer larger screens will not convert to the relatively tiny iPhone screen with a lower resolution.

Also it is enough to mention it once that you make the best products. In the conference call Tim Cook mentioned “very best products in the world,” “best customer experience in the world,” “best work of their life,” “create the world’s best product,” “our best products ever,” “best products in the world,” “only the best products.” So best was used over and over. In addition to that we had “unprecedented,” “unmatched,” “stunning,” and other synonyms. Enough already. We get it.

If we are to believe this guidance, the exponential growth of Apple will not apply to next quarter at least as far as EPS is concerned. However the stock price reaction to the earnings is completely unjustified – I predicted a drop to $450 if Apple misses in my pre-earnings article. This would be a good time to buy some Apple stock. For a company that carries a cash pile of $137 billion and is expected to make a profit of around $45 billion in 2013, the stock is significantly undervalued compared to peers like Google and Amazon.

Growth at the midpoint of $42 billion in revenue would be 7% over the same quarter last year and EPS would actually be lower by 20%. That is what spooked investors even though the reason for this is simple – more growth in emerging markets means gravitation to lower margin products. This quarter was the first in at least 16 quarters where Apple’s EPS was lower than the same period in the previous year. And next quarter might be the first ever significant decline.

However with the introduction of newer generation products, I expect that the EPS will grow after next quarter. I still maintain that it is a good buy at the current $450 level.

Disclosure: Long AAPL, GOOG