27 December, 2009

Happy Holidays!

From the WC Power Tech Fund to all the investors and traders in the marketplace.
Have a safe and happy holidays!

17 December, 2009

Research In Motion Regains Footing

Some difference 3 months can make. Research In Motion (RIMM) stock 3 months ago was bearing the brunt of sell-off at the behest of disappointing performance and guidance, dipping from the mid $80s to the high $60s per share. The stock had mostly held water of late, sliding slightly to the low $60s but was in a position to change all that with another earnings report.

With the increasing competition from Apple's (AAPL) iPhone, Palm's (PALM) Pre and heightened marketing given to several smart-phones running Google's (GOOG) Android software RIM had to deliver, on all fronts, and it has. Blowing past all expected metrics is leading shares of RIM higher by 11% early in after hours trade.

The lines: Revenue of $3.92Billion vs $3.78Billion estimated; Income of $1.10/share vs $1.04/share estimated; Subscribers at 4.4Million vs 4.1Million estimated. RIM also shipped 10.1Million units during the quarter, including a milestone generating 75Millionth.

Seems the analyst talk of RIM's mighty fall via the dual-pronged iPhone/Android sword will have to wait for the time being as the folks from Waterloo can pop the bubbly for at least another quarter as going into the Christmas season the guidance RIM provided was very strong. Revenue of $4.3Billion vs $4.11Billion and EPS of $1.27/share vs $1.12.

So, with RIM so firmly positioned, what's wrong with the company and why isn't it a must own in the growing smart-phone industry? Two main reasons: Interfacing and Extensibility.

In interface design RIM is not even close to the same league as Apple, let alone the various flavours of Android that are appearing in the market-place. The company has such a culture entrenched in the corporate world that functionality for the consumer has always seemed like an after-thought with the current incarnations of the BlackBerry OS. This was most evident in both versions of the touch screen device Storm that the company debuted to scolding and muted critical response.

In regards to extensibility its hard to call RIM's platform a leader in any sense of the world. Its BlackBerry App World platform is another after-thought and in the days of the highly successful iPhone/iPod Touch AppStore, being an afterthought is just about being dead in the water. While Android is still nowhere near Apple's 100,000 applications catalog, it is getting there with over 16,000 available for various handsets. In this race RIM is already well-behind.

But there is a silver lining, the company makes very good looking hardware, for the most part, and is a staple in the corporate world, which is a business that isn't going anywhere and will grow with the rise of smart-phones world wise. Prospects continue to look good, and if the engineers can get their software act together for a new version of the BlackBerry OS, it really can be a 3 pronged fight in the mobile space for the decade to come, and that kind of potential will have analysts and investors eager to jump on board.

Disclosure: Author does not hold any position in RIMM, is long AAPL, GOOG

08 December, 2009

Markets fading to start December. What's in store for Christmas?

The first week of December has been one dominated by the sordid affairs of Professional Golf's most notorious figure, and as the rumor mill churns to fill gossip websites and supermarket rags, critical economic, fiscal and international issues are bumped to Page 2. So let's take a look back at what's been making the rounds.

The President of the United States, Barack Obama, always seemingly juggling several critical agendas, has his work cut out for him as he steers the US Senate in the Health Care debate behind closed doors, outlines a plan to send 30,000 more troops to support the War in Afghanistan and holds a Jobs Summit to deal with unemployment. The administration hopes to deploy unused or paid back Financial Bailout Money to support small businesses in lending and hiring and to ignite country wide infrastructure and energy efficiency projects, and to top that all off, newest laid out plans call for the creation of the biggest government transparency project in the Nation's history.

Certainly an ambitious agenda that is sparking controversy from either side of the American political aisle, but as Health Care is being actively debated in the floor of the Senate a passage of a reform bill seems ultimately likely. As for jobs, a very positive report for November had the US losing only 11,000 jobs in that month, with further reductions in previous month loss estimates. A far cry from the over 700,000 per month that were lost in the early parts of the recession. Still, with unemployment sitting at 10% of Americans something more has to be announced and followed through by the Administration.

On the market's side, the recent rally in Gold finally hit a bit of a stumbling block as the US Dollar found some fitting via comments from Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve. An interesting trade on gold has been a double gold short fund, PowerShares Double Gold Short (DZZ), posting a 15% gain over the last 5 trading sessions, including a 4% gain Tuesday. As economic footing returns and the possibility of rising Interest Rates in the US into next year this is a really interesting speculation play on a breather in Gold's record rally.

Bank Of America (BAC) has indicated its intention of paying back $45Billion in financial rescue money it had received from the Government as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), leaving its banking brethren Citigroup (C) and Wells Fargo (WFC) still without plans for re-payment.

Technology news of the day has several firms in the spotlight. Google (GOOG) has recently hosted an event in which it showcased several new search initiatives including real-time search, which include public updates from social spaces such as Twitter and Facebook, a Google Goggles tongue-twister project, which allows mobile phones running Android, and soon other platforms to take photographs of virtually anything and get legions of information back to the smartphone.

Apple (AAPL) has purchased music streaming service Lala, which for all intensive purposes seems to likely fit into the mold of furthering a cloud based iTunes architecture and perhaps a streaming alternative to the pay for download model the company has currently been enjoying. With all eyes on a potential tablet offering from the electronics company, several publishers are already lining up to create a joint venture that will put the likes of Sports Illustrated and Time magazine in specific new tablet formats with advanced interactive and connectivity features.

In the entertainment world Activision Blizzard (ATVI) set all sorts of records with the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, selling pretty much a bazillion copies of the popular franchise video game and making more money in 24 hours than any other release in the history of entertainment.

As Christmas comes around the corner, in the retail and tech space it'll be interesting to see what the must-have gadget of the year is to be. Will the iPhone dominate again, will console wars push to new sales highs, will consumer spending continue to rise as the jobs picture improves on a bedrock of subtle economic growth?

This time of year always seems to set traders into a bullish mood, and that will be especially true if reports of record bonuses from the financial industry continue to ring true. But just remember, Goldman Sachs (GS) can't be blamed for everything, or can it?

Disclosure: Author owns C, GS, AAPL, GOOG

19 November, 2009

Google Shows Off Chrome OS in Technical Preview

Google's (GOOG) entry into the Operating System space is at least a year away, but the Internet and Search behemoth showed off a technical preview of what they've been tinkering with to an audience of journalists and "techies".

Expanding on the browser that Google released called Chrome, and its currently advertised 40Million user install base, the operating system advanced by Google is a means to the future of cloud computing. All applications on Chrome OS will be web apps and all data is in sync with the cloud at all times. Basically a user would be able to log into any Chrome OS computer and treat it like your own. The Browser is the key.

Major targets for Google with this system are speed and security. With all major components of the OS, either incredibly lightweight or in the cloud, the time to get a computer up and running will be drastically reduced. The demo netbook that Google showed off was ready to go in 7 seconds. The security model Google is working on with Chrome OS is also designed for the Internet age. Building specific locks to the core of the system from applications will allow Chrome to remain unharmed by viral and malicious programs. The Internet connected self-update and synchronization system will essentially allow Chrome users to always have the most current and safest version of the operation system. If something does go wrong, Chrome can re-install a clean version right on the spot and re-sync all the user's data, almost transparently. Some advanced thinking from a company with a lot of advanced thinkers.

But, how will it all work, what about the powerful desktop applications the computing public has grown accustomed to? Well, initially Chrome is situated for a secondary computer, Internet connected for on the go work, like the netbooks and smart-phones of today. As users get more accustomed to living in the "cloud", it is Google's hope that Chrome can grow into larger and more advanced hardware. Internet technologies have also come a long way in the last couple of years, allowing for far richer web applications than in years past. That alone makes the web app only Chrome a solution to think about, as increasingly more work, social and play is done online.

So, what's in it for Google, and more specifically Google's investors? Well, the long-term battle on several fronts between Google and Microsoft (MSFT) just got a lot more interesting with today's demonstration. Netbooks are the fastest growing computer segment, according to several analyst and consumer measurement reports, and it is a field now dominated by Microsoft, first with Windows XP, and now, or so the hope is, Windows 7. Since Chrome OS is open-source and will be free to manufactures, the Zero price point will put a lot of pressure on the folks from Seattle. But to Google, this is the start of a next generation of cloud-only computing users, a part of the business, where from an infrastructure stand-point Google is dominant. The company can afford to guide development here making nothing from it, but enabling a generation of faster, and more secure web surfers, who'll in turn be more trusting of the cloud, and in turn more receptive to tailored Google advertisements .

There's that buzzword again, the cloud. Google, like other giants in the tech space, want to be the big fish in the cloud business. There are other companies that would focus on the corporate market first and get tangible business that way. A lucrative business that will be as well, but Amazon (AMZN), IBM (IBM), Microsoft and HP (HPQ) are all in competition to provide the infrastructure and cloud services for business. Google's reach has always been about advertising to the consumer, and by providing products and services for free, it's building a trust with the consumer that companies rarely have an opportunity to experience. Granted, user data in the cloud brings up many privacy concerns, but Google seems to be able to side-step its way around most issues in that realm, all the while gathering more tailored information about the surfing and shopping habits of its users.

Google's mantra is clearly changing, of course they are still behind the well publicized "Don't Be Evil" but in the new age of computing and business, Google's really striving to serve up "The Perfect Ad". Because the most lucrative ad, is the one that's as tailored as it can possibly be, because it gives the highest potential of a sale, and after all its the sale that drives business. Chrome OS is the next step towards that potential sale.

Disclosure: Author owns GOOG

12 November, 2009

Job Market healing, albeit very slowly

Employment in this economic environment has been a very sensitive subject for both politicians, investors and most importantly job-seekers. The economic issue is first and foremost on the mind on many Americans, but it is also causing political upheaval in Washington as the slowing of job losses can be used as an argument only so many times before political capital and goodwill is eroded completely.

Jobless claims data out today showcased that first-time claims came in at just over 500,000, which is the fewest since January of this year. The four-week average for first time claims, about 520,000, is off 20% from peak claims levels. For October, job losses numbered in the 190,000 range, well off peaks of 700,000 during this recession. Accumulation is a big issue, as jobs lost since the recession began number more than 7.3Million, and despite government figures that point to job creation/savings of about 600,000 from the stimulus package it still is a difficult data point to swallow, for those trapped without employment, making the march for continuing jobless benefits.

The market's have reacted bearishly to the jobless claims, but overall losses today have been muted, with the major market trackers off about half a percentage point. Materials and Energy sectors are leading the decline today, with Financials barely trailing for the prize of day's worst performers. With the S&P holding levels around 1100 points, the market has been pricing in recovery during its recently extended rally. Investors, to keep this rally going, are going to need to see tangible upticks in demand and that means some tried and true job growth going into 2010. If anyone is to keep this market going next year the need will be to have jobs creation to build on the economic recovery GDP figures have already suggested is here.

03 November, 2009

Warren Buffet Completely Bets on Rail, and America

If not so much on rail, than on the American economy, the bet by Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) and Warren Buffet on Burlington Northern (BNI) buying the remaining 77% stake to take complete control over the railway company is a stern statement about the direction and prosperity of America. The $44Billion value of the deal including debt and previous investments makes it, for Berkshire, the biggest investment in the history of their business.

An efficient rail system, especially one built on high-speed rail transit, has been one focus of the current US Administration with plans calling for an $8Billion investment in rail as part of the Stimulus Package, with another $5Billion rail investment set aside in the budget for 2010. While President Barack Obama's plans call for efficiencies and high speed in the passenger rail business, the infrastructure work is sure to bode well for the transports and delivery businesses as well.

It is in this business that Mr. Buffet plans to play the recovery of American economics. Eventually as demand for good picks up with improving unemployment, the demand for transport of those various goods for manufacturing and sale will boost the prospects of companies like Burlington Northern.

Investors over the years have learned to trust the calculated wisdom of Mr. Buffet, and it generally isn't a good idea to bet against the man that's built one of the biggest fortunes of our time. As he's shown as recently as the financial crises (with an investment near the bottom in Goldman Sachs that's bore much applauded profits), the Oracle of Omaha isn't sitting on any of his laurel's. This investment is as much a bet on an American recovery in jobs and economic growth as it is about the prospects of the two hundred year old rail business.

Even if investor's aren't convinced rail is the future, the actions of one of America's wisest and most patient investing minds have to taken seriously.

Disclosure: Author holds no position in BRK.A nor BNI

28 October, 2009

GPS Investors flee from Google's Shadow

Google Navigator, a seemingly natural extension of existing Google Maps technology that's found on smart-phone platforms like the iPhone and Android, has GPS company investors running from the hills.

The issue isn't that the technology from Google (GOOG) is significantly better, it does look very good and would be a formidable competitor, the issue is Google's affinity to price all-things-Internet at $0. Considering Navigation subscriptions run in the $100s of dollars/year, not to mention the cost of the units themselves, how many GPS users would turn to something else from, for now, trusted Google at zero cost that works on their existing cellular phone? I'd bet many, and the market is betting that way too. Gizmodo (Link), the technology blog, has an informed quick review of Google's entry into the Navigation business.

The sell-off in the market has certainly contributed to some of the downfall in GPS stocks, however major players Garmin (GRMN) and TomTom (TOM2) are down 16% and 20%, respectively.

The age of convergence in technology is certainly upon us, better cameras are coming to cellular phones, better media players are already there, and now GPS navigation capabilities are becoming mainstream. The stand-alone technology gadget/device is becoming a niche rather quickly.

Android, the free open-source cellular operating system developed by Google, is taking off by leaps and bounds this year, with several high profile phones on tap on high profile networks, such as Verizon (VZ), AT&T (T) and T-Mobile in the US. The platform, which recent research has predicted, could overtake the popular Apple (AAPL) iPhone in market-share over the next few years, needs applications like Google Navigator to be exclusive on enticing handsets in the months to come. The Momentum is building for Android and Google is keeping the fire lit with its Navigation application.

The only problem for investors, Google doesn't want to charge for anything but advertising! In all likelihood however, this is the next step in Navigator's life cycle, and Google can continue its march into dominance of the mobile ad industry, just as it has trounced the competition in search.

Disclosure: Author owns GOOG

20 October, 2009

Apple's Earnings Aftermath

By now the news media has digested the rock-solid quarter from the Steve Jobs-led-innovative bunch in Cupertino, so now its time for the experts to weigh in. First, here's a simple recap of Apple's (AAPL) quarter.

$1.67Billion in profits ($1.82/share) on $9.87Billion in revenue, which compares to $7.9Billion in revenue and $1.14Billion in profits ($1.26/share) a year ago. Considering the street was anticipating $1.42/share, with a whisper number in the $1.60s/share, this is quite the professional thrashing. Even the highest estimate on the street was left in the cold in the $1.70s.

The real kicker here however is when Apple accounts for iPhone sales right away and not under the subscription method. In that instance the company earned $2.85Billion on sales of $12.25Billion. Clearly this company can not be priced based on P/E valuations.

Now for the sales figures.
3.05Million Macs (A new quarterly record)
10.2Million iPods
7.4Million iPhones

All impressive in their own right, considering iPods are by all accounts supposed to be dying off, and iPhone 3GS supply was limited most of the quarter. I'd speculate Apple wants to stock up for the Christmas season now as it steps into its newest market, China. The 3Million Mac number is most impressive, as the company beat its previous quarterly record by 400,000 units, and its not even the Christmas season yet.

Apple has just also announced 2 new iMac desktops, starting at $1200 a newly redesigned entry-level MacBook at $1000, and 3 models of the Mac Mini, setting one of the up to be a home media server type device. This refresh of the desktop line is sure to spur holiday sales into a segment that has been stagnant for sometime as laptops dominate computer sales. In what's still considered a recessionary environment, Apple stands out as a testament to quality, design, innovation and marketing power. The quarterly performance definitely can't be argued with.

The pros had their say before the quarter and the market had its say boosting shares to all time highs over the $202 mark. What do the pros say now? Higher price targets and upgrades galore!

A who's who list of tech analysts that includes firms such as Piper Jaffray, Oppenheimer, RBC, Carris & Co., UBS, Needham & Co. have reiterated, upgraded or raised targets on Apple with UBS being the highest at $280. The love-fest with the electronics maker didn't stop there as targets came in at $277, $275, $260, $235 and so on. Although the numbers the pros give vary, one thing was common-place. Apple is a must-own tech bell-weather.

Just think when they change their accounting! Over the last 4 quarters, non-adjusted profits total $9.77/share vs $6.11/share under GAAP. Roughly a P/E of 20 (now that this calculation makes sense)!

Oh, and the company now keeps 19% of its market cap, about $34Billion in cash in its bank vaults.

Disclosure: Author owns AAPL

19 October, 2009

Apple's Gunning for Records with September Quarter

As analysts line up their predictions for Apple's (AAPL) upcoming quarterly earnings report, one thing stands very clear. Records are made to be broken. In the quarter that saw the continued success of iPhone 3GS, price cuts on Mac Computers and a slew of upgraded or new iPods, the company is firmly poised to deliver its best back to school season ever. Apple's typically conservative guidance for this quarter called for earnings in the range of $1.18 to $1.23 in profit/share on sales of $8.7 to $8.9Billion.

Standing in stark contrast are analysts with Revenue figures at $9.2Billion and profits of $1.42/share on average. Apple over the last few years has beaten earnings expectations by a staggering 39% and Revenue by 7%. Perhaps the analysts have caught up this time? Not yet. 90 days ago the average estimates stood at $1.27 and have climbed since to $1.38 and where it currently stands at $1.42.

But, since when do analysts really have a handle on the hot trends of the day. The Apple generation of the 2000s have grown up with iPods being a must-have, the Mac as a must-have College tool and now the iPhone as the it mind-share capturing device. But analysts, like most things come in all shapes and sizes and estimates, certainly for Apple, can vary wildly.

On the Computer front, expectations have risen for Apple to sell upwards of 2.8Million machines, a new record for the company. In the year ago period, that number was 2.6Million. While iPods are slowly an eroding business, another 10Million units are expected to cross hands, and the stunning growth of the iPhone business will continue with estimated sales of about 7Million units.

While Apple's been dropping prices on Macs and iPods to maintain sales and grow share, it has plenty of room to keep margins steady as the iPhone is by all accounts a profitable monster, and the launch of Snow Leopard software adds to the margin story. Taken altogether and the pros are calling for continued sales success at Apple.

Whether the market believes it too is the next test.

Disclosure: Author owns AAPL

05 October, 2009

Banks are Gold, according to Goldman

Goldman Sachs (GS), long the darling (and jealously-driven scorn) of Wall St. just gave an emphatic gift to all its rivals by declaring the American financial system is a worthwhile investment. With its own shares more than doubling year-to-date Goldman gave its investing clientele the go-ahead to purchase other large banks, sending financial shares higher today and leading the market to gains or just about 1%.

By claiming large banks will outperform regional banks, Goldman spawned gains of between 2 and 6% for the major financial institutions. Despite the shot of love Goldman has thrown the financial companies, it finds itself battling one hell of a PR campaign on the topic of excessive bonuses. The company was looked at with balking eyes as it reported near record profits and bonus levels in the first half of this year, a year only one removed from the biggest financial and market failure since the Great Depression.

Perhaps Goldman wants to set the mood, favourable for all banks and it turn for itself. Since there's no shortage of politics now in finance, by giving an agreeable nod to the upcoming performances of the major banks, it'll soften the political blow when Goldman reports another record quarterly profit and annual bonus numbers that draft everyone else on the street.

The company is known for its shredding and fleecing of most it does business with, and a recent report showcased that Goldman receives $1Billion if the institution CIT fails, and price tag that would cost taxpayers $2.3Billion will do nothing to change that reputation. The well publicized bailout of AIG during the meat of the financial crisis, of which Goldman Sachs was one counter-party reportedly receiving billions of then federal dollars is just another such example.

But isn't that exactly what you want from an Investment Bank? To be the smartest group of guys in the room? I'd say so, and despite any public or political backlash over bonuses, Goldman is on tap to report another golden quarter. And that's something worth owning.

Disclosure: Author owns GS

29 September, 2009

Toyota's Attractive Prospects and Global Positioning

The car maker from Japan, the country's largest, suffered a drop in August output, but the pride of Toyota City remains primed to continue its automotive leadership worldwide. Global output from Toyota (TM) fell around 9% year over year, but conditions economically are more stable and the additions of government programs, such as the US Cash for Clunkers and Japan's subsidy program, are helping efficient automakers move more units.

In fact, Toyota has reaped the biggest benefit of the majors from such programs and has raised its 2009 calendar year production run. The rise of 8% means the manufacture of 6.45Million vehicles total for this year. It was widely reported that Toyota owned the largest percentage of new vehicle sales under the Cash for Clunkers program in the United States, with the brand owning 3 of the top 5 new car spots, a testament to the message of Toyota as a fuel-efficient, safe and reliable car maker. Moreover, in Japan, Toyota enjoyed a 9% sales rise in August due to the Japanese subsidy program, that similar to the US, offered nearly $3000 towards the purchase of a fuel-efficient vehicle.

Toyota has rallied from lows in the mid 50s with the market since March and had hit a new high in the mid-high 80s as recently as a month ago, however, with the stock sliding below the $80 mark, down 2% Tuesday, it's time to look at Toyota again as the stable play in the automotive sector and the one with the best chance for production growth in its near future as the global economy recovers in 2010.

Disclosure: Author does not own TM

24 September, 2009

Drop In Jobless Claims Fails To Ignite Market

In what by most is seen as good news the job market showcased another data point in its long march towards stability. Jobless claims fell by about 20,000 to 530,000, which was slightly better than the 550,000 expected by economists and analysts.

Another rather important metric, continuous jobless claims (people making claims for longer than a week) fell by 123,000 to 6.14Million. These data points are giving economists positive signals that the job market is getting better, but cautious optimism aside, it also shows how much further there is to go.

The major benchmarks in the US opened slightly positive on the news but have since turned negative with the Nasdaq leading with a 1% decline.

In other news, some technology companies might to ready to appear more attractive to investors as what some call the "Apple rule" has been reversed. The required method of subscription accounting when dealing with hardware and software sales, most notably put into practice by Apple (AAPL) with its iPhone, will no longer be so as part of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. This change allows Apple to record Revenue and Profit from iPhone sales in real-time as opposed to being force to account for each unit sold over a 2 year period. Amazon (AMZN) uses the same method of accounting for its Kindle e-book reading device and Palm (PALM) had adopted the method for its flagship Pre smartphone.

Why Apple is most noted for this change is relatively simple, it moves a staggering amount of iPhone units, at high margins, fueling renewed growth rates. Under the new standards, Apple is expected to report profitability that is 35-40% higher than it is currently allowed to. Fundamentally, there should be no change to the value of the company, simply a change in the accounting books, but for many P/E based traders and quantitative computer P/E based models, Apple will appear more attractive under these ratios. Amazon, Palm and other companies dealing with this change will not have their metrics altered nearly as much as Apple is expected to.

Disclosure: Author owns AAPL

17 September, 2009

Technology leading market's rally, a pause ahead?

The 52 week high list looks like a who's who of dynamic companies, with the list being dominated by some of the best and brightest in Technology. The Nasdaq has outperformed its peers on a year to date basis and as several analysts predicted, it is the tech sector that is leading the rally.

The Nasdaq's Year to Date performance gains of 34% dwarfs the gains put up by the S&P (18%) and the Dow Jones (11%). Even looking at the gains since the lows of March, the Nasdaq and technology is still the driving story for the market. Nasdaq at 68% leads the gains of the S&P at 60% and the Dow Jones at 51%. Either way, the bull market rally since March, on the back of the idea of recovery, and finally improving GDP numbers has been broad and long. The Bulls have been on a 6 month celebratory train, but will it last and is Tech's run over?

Not quite, the road to recovery, while already swift due to massive government intervention, still has to play its course and incite a recovery in the job market. Unemployment in America is still rising, though not as quickly, towards the psychological 10% mark. If job creation instead of job losses show up in the remaining quarter of the year, market bulls will have more reason to bang their chests, and more importantly, put their wallet where their mouth is.

Secondly, the housing sector still needs to improve. Articles on the Huffington Post and other sources, are already touting that banks are going back to packaging risky loans, and many analysts are waiting for the other shoe to drop when it comes to commercial real estate. While some may scoff at the success rate of the White House loan modification program, the last estimates put the percentage of home owners helped with refinancing at 13-15%, the fact is there are some getting help. Housing starts were lower than expected most recently but this has been a metric that has consistently come in higher than expectations.

Now, about those 52 week high names. Well technology giants Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG) dominate the list, while other techs such as Ebay (EBAY) show up, and even others such as IBM (IBM) and INTC (INTC) are just off those levels.

The prudent thing for the market to do and investors to do would be to take a breather after such a scorching rally of late, however, as market participants are keen to know, markets stay irrational for longer than expected.

Disclosure: Author owns AAPL, GOOG

11 September, 2009

In Remembrance of 8 years to the date. 9/11

On the Anniversary of one of the most infamous dates in history we all should take a moment and reflect on just how much was lost for so many on Sept 11, 2001.

8 years have since passed, may the victims of the tragedy be remembered forever.

Can Motorola follow the Palm path?

In a bit of Deja Vu, the conscious feeling not the forgettable Denzel suspense film, Motorola (MOT) is attempting to pick its phone company off of the balance sheet floor with an attractive new handset. Investors have just seen this same story with PDA legend Palm (PALM), as it used hype from its Pre handset unveiled in January of this year to move the stock from $4 to $14 and save a business that was clearly heading in the wrong direction.

The battle in the smart phone marketplace is very heated, with entrenched competitors Apple (AAPL) and Research In Motion (RIMM) slowly gaining market share but gathering much of the mind share, and more importantly most of the profit margins. Recent stats show those two juggernauts grabbing just 3% of the overall cellphone market but an astounding 35% of all industry profits. And for good reason, the companies sell very expensive but heavily subsidized attractive smart phones.

Motorola, which has been in dire financial shape quarter after quarter for what can only be described as forever, hasn't had a hit in the cell phone space since its popular RAZR handset, and is desperately trying to compete in the profitable smart phone segment. By gutting through a lot of the company, and doing away with historically bad Motorola interfaces the company turned to Google's (GOOG) upstart Android platform for its resurgence.

Android, by all accounts is gaining significant traction since the first HTC handset launched nearly a near ago. The platform has been featured in 3 additional phones headed in the US thus far and rumors peg the number of Android handsets at 20 into 2010. This contrasts with the handful of RIM models available and the 2 current selling versions of Apple's iPhone. Motorola is betting with a lot of the industry that the free Android platform can eventually be as compelling and competitive in an industry feeling the need for consolidation in what is becoming an age of mobile applications. If your phone doesn't have applications available its simply not as good, and the beauty of Android, as far at Moto is concerned, is that it doesn't need to worry about pumping resources to create an application hub. The reach of Google is already doing just that, granted it is nowhere near the size of Apple's AppStore, but Android does boast the 2nd biggest mobile application catalogue. Nothing to scoff at.

Enter the Motorola Cliq, the world's first social phone, as the company claims. The phone is built on Android, but Moto's designers have layered an interface that directly ties in a user's Facebook, MySpace and Twitter contacts and status information. The social aspects of the phone are sure to resonate with a younger smart phone buying public and Motorola has shown it can indeed build something of higher quality. Will the phone be able to compete in the space? Sure, but will it gain any significant market share? At least one analyst seems to think so, as a note was published putting 4th quarter Cliq sales at about 750,000 or an estimated 5% of Moto cell sales. 5% may not seem that significant, but with a hefty subsidy, Motorola could start to see some real revenue from its new headlining handset. And after all, Moto essentially bet the company on Android less than a year ago, so we're guaranteed to see several handsets leveraging the new interface.

While specs are impressive, price will be a key differentiator for consumers. In the age of the $99 iPhone 3G and the higher capacity $199 iPhone 3GS, it is sheer lunacy for other players to think they can charge more and gain any sort of traction with consumers. Thus far though, Investors are jumping in and believing in the robot that will eventually have come to save Motorola from the brink. Shares are up 7% today and gained more than 10% since the device was officially announced. Here we go again?

Disclosure: Author owns AAPL, GOOG

08 September, 2009

As more go back to school, less are out of work

The Labour Day weekend in North America was met with a Friday stock rally based on encouraging employment figures that saw 216,000 jobs lost in the month of August. Although 216,000 is still a significant number out of work this trend of a decline in job slashing, a figure that was upwards of 700,000/month at the peak of the recession, led investors into confident buying to start the long weekend. Furthermore, Canada's job picture actually showed job growth in the tens of thousands signalling a shift out of the recession and leading the TSX Composite Index to new highs for the year.

Tuesday's morning action continued the trend, as market's saw green in the early going, this time fueled by commodities, especially gold, with prices around $1000/ounce. Major market benchmarks were all higher between .5 and 1% with the S&P leading the way.

America's battle for Health Care is taking a more dramatic turn this week as President Barack Obama issued a strong pro health care reform speech to the labor force and is set to speak again to Congress on Wednesday as the health debate enters its final stretches.

Kraft Foods (KFT) is taking a bit of a beating today as it issued, and was quickly rejected in a $16Billion bid for Cadbury (CBY). It's clear investors want more out of a takeover bid, with analysts already speculating the Chocolate maker could fetch near $21Billion if another suitor was found to compete. Shares of CBY are up nearly 40% giving a market cap well over $17Billion, so it seems traders are sharing the investor sentiment for now. Shares of Kraft slid 5% on the news.

Also on tap tomorrow is an annual iPod-related event from Apple (AAPL) as it brings the media over to showcase new iPods and possibly a new version of its iTunes software. Rumors have been rampant as usual for an Apple event, and although the fabled tablet computer is unlikely to appear, new iPod Touch and iPod Nanos are expected to the sporting cameras for easy on the go pictures and videos. Shares of Apple are up almost 1.5% today but are expected to fall following the event unless Apple can surprise with a new announcement of some kind.

Disclosure: Author owns AAPL

31 August, 2009

Disney's Marvelous Bet on Superheroes

The Walt Disney Company (DIS) set its mouse ears on the biggest name in comic books in a purchase agreement that will bring all of Marvel Entertainment's (MVL) characters into the Disney fold. The $4Billion purchase agreement with Marvel is similar to Disney's previous $8Billion buy of animation powerhouse Pixar, which has already reaped dividends with film, toy and video sales of features Wall-E and this summer's hit Up.

Marvel, a newcomer in the movie production business, but with two self-financed films under its belt and another four in development is riding a high after the blockbuster success of Iron Man and the subsequent revenue tail that film has provided. With the eagerly anticipated sequel set to be an even bigger box-office draw, the opportunity was ripe and Disney went after it. Marvel's upcoming film slate looks like this:

=> Self-Financed films including 2010's Iron Man 2, 2011's Thor and Captain America films, and the 2012 team-up Avengers. But that's just the beginning, as a possible Incredible Hulk sequel, a S.H.I.E.L.D. or Nick Fury film and potential franchises from the core Avengers characters all lie in wait for initial movie-goer reaction.

=> Licensed films include Sony's 2011 Spiderman 4, upcoming Fox films Wolverine 2, Deadpool, X-Men First Class, and Origins Magneto, and there's talk in Hollywood circles about reboots to the Daredevil, Fantastic Four and Blade franchises.

The film slate at Marvel looks incredibly promising, so why sell out at $50/share? That's a question Marvel shareholders will get to ask as although both company boardrooms have approved the deal, the MVL shareholders must also give their permission. Given the profitability of the Iron Man movie franchise and the chance of a second hit with either Thor or Captain America, all moving towards the much-anticipated Avengers film, begs the question whether Marvel needed a big brother. Marvel finds itself in a very positive business cycle as its films generate interest in its comic books, which generate interest in more films and toys and videos, but I believe Marvel's thinking is growing ever-more global and it needs a partner to showcase its characters further around the world.

Disney theme parks with various Marvel characters and tailored rides, bigger opportunities in television for Marvel's growing animation team and the increased presence at the negotiating table for localized global expansion of movie, television and print properties give Marvel a cushion it didn't have before when it ventured on its own. But, most importantly, I think Marvel have watched and learned from the Pixar model, and as Pixar was embraced into the Disney fold, it has been allowed to run and create as it had before and even more so. Critically, the last two Pixar films have been labelled as the least commercial and least accessible, and still among its best to date. In the end creativity prevailed, and just as the Pixar model has taught Disney, Marvel knows that its love for its own characters and creative process will be left with the creators and not a corporate conglomerate.

Prior writings at WC Power Tech Fund about Marvel, here (Link), here (Link) and here (Link), with the premier of Iron Man and beyond, talked about how the strategy was very sound and the stock could easily double from its $2-3Billion market cap within the next few years as it pressed on with its film strategy. That was around the $30/share range and Marvel admirably was able to withstand the market's recession wrath better than most, eventually faltered with the market but was quickly embraced again by investors at close around $38 at the end of last week. Now while this deal makes a lot of sense in many ways, Marvel should've been worth significantly more than $50/share on its own as its Avengers assembled.

Disclosure: Author owns MVL, DIS

28 August, 2009

Apple-China deal struck: iPhones official

China Unicom (CHU) and Apple (AAPL), after months of negotiations and several false starts, have completed a deal that will flood the Chinese market with legitimate iPhones before the year is out. China Unicom is building out its 3G network that will be ready by the end of the September for most of its 140Million plus subscribers, which is the biggest cell market that Apple has ever rolled the iPhone out into.

The uncomfortable love triangle that Apple found itself within in China was one that it had to complete for the continued dominance of its ubiquitous handset. China Mobile (CHL), the biggest carrier in the country with almost 500Million subscribers, was also in the running but several public disagreements with Apple over revenue sharing and control of the AppStore, made a deal impossible for the Cupertino electronics & design company.

Apple had to make a phone specific to the marketplace in China, with a mandate that wi-fi be removed from the iPhone, but for a market that size the company was willing to make concessions. The deal with the second largest carrier, Unicom, will allow Apple a foothold into the vast, electronic friendly marketplace, where several estimates have placed "grey-market" iPhones already in the country at more than a million units. With the country getting an official retail and distribution channel for the popular device, it will be interesting to see how the consumer in China responds to pricing and rate plans.

Like most "exclusive" deals that Apple strikes, there are certainly levels of buying the carrier of choice will have to make. That part of Apple's iPhone deals have been reported in several other markets like Russia for example. Apple did not get any revenue sharing in this agreement and the phones will simply be sold by China Unicom with subsidies. Reports have been denied that already 5Million units were ordered, but speculators have suggested that this number is quite reasonable, and in some cases underwhelming as it accounts for less than 1% cellular market penetration.

Playing with shipment volumes aside, the iPhone coming to China is a huge deal for Apple and its earnings going forward. The market in China of cellphone users will bump Apple's global addressable market significantly and even if sell-through rates do not meet expectations due to the rampant "grey-market" the channel fill will certainly help Apple's unit shipments and Revenues substantially. In the last quarter, the iPhone 3GS was launched, selling 1Million units in a weekend, leading to 5Million units sold in the quarter, a quarter that was largely applauded by Wall St. So how many will Apple sell in this quarter and the next as iPhones get bought and paid for by the company's Chinese partner? The answer I would think is at least 5Million on top that had previously been reported and debunked, if not significantly more.

Disclosure: Author is long AAPL

20 August, 2009

Government owned General Motors bails out Dealers stalled by Government [Update]

This little gem of a news story is making the rounds recently as General Motors dealerships across America are on the verge of closing shop due to cash flow issues relating to the Cash For Clunkers program.

The program itself has been a huge success for the Automotive Industry, specifically the car makers, with not only General Motors, but American rival Ford (F) announcing increases in production to keep up with demand. So far reports indicate that about 450,000 vehicles have been sold in the US qualifying for the program, with recent statistics showing Toyota (TM) vehicles holding 3 of the top 5 spots. Nearly half a million vehicles is not an insignificant number in the fight to increase average American fuel economy but herein lies the rub. The wildly successful program has already run out of money once, gotten an infusion of cash to extend it, and still is so far behind the 8-ball on the administration side of things that dealers around the country may have to shut their doors. While this program is expected to bump vehicles sales past the 1 Million mark for the first time in longer than a year, the under-pinnings of and bureaucratic red-tape within this program still have a ways to go.

Cash For Clunkers, which gives up to $4500 in rebates to car purchasers, provided they buy fuel efficient vehicles and trade in gas guzzlers or old piles of road junk, is leaving dealers holding the bag when it comes to running operations. It is now reported just how far behind the Government is in issuing rebates to dealers, with 37% of rebates having been processed, but the percentage of payouts still unknown. The articles flying across the news wires lately have been full of quotable frustrations from dealers. One company is apparently looking out and stepping in to help.

General Motors is that company, 60% Government-owned General Motors following the structured bankruptcy that is. The company, err Government, is lending money to dealerships in an attempt to keep them operating until the Government can process their sales and send the appropriate rebate dollars. GM will take the money back from dealers within a month's time if the Department Of Transportation has issued funds to that specific dealer, so this plan is wildly considered an operational stop-gap measure. General Motors is on the right track here as in the market share game, it can't afford to have its dealership network crippled during the busiest car buying spree in over a year. The irony of it all, especially for Uncle Sam is something else entirely!

Update: Press updates regarding 37% of rebates process with unknown % having been paid out.

Disclosure: Author owns TM, holds no position in any other companies mentioned

17 August, 2009

Home Reno Sector still facing Economic Headwinds

Lowe's (LOW), the smaller competitor to housing renovation giant Home Depot (HD) found its stock slipping nearly 10% today on disappointing revenue and earnings numbers for its 2nd quarter. As money has been flowing this year into the more established names in anticipation of recovery, Lowe's had an opportunity to showcase its smaller and leaner business model, however the difficult economics have proved to be increasingly challenging. Year To Date now Lowe's sits 4% in the red, while Home Depot has been a 14% gainer, despite a nearly 4% tumble today.

Lowe's profit fell 19% year over year to $759Million or $0.51/share, which fell short of expectations of $0.54/share and on the top line Revenue fell to $13.8Billion, down from $14.5Billion a year ago.

But housing data is getting better right? Not everywhere and not consistently is the message from these numbers, while housing prices and housing starts are beginning to improve on a year over year basis, they are against comparisons coming from drastic lows that were reached during the meat of the global recession. With the jobs numbers being what they are, it's difficult to imagine the current economic environment being a hotbed for home renovations or substantial new developments. As North America begins to slowly drive itself out of the recession, Lowe's sees some leveling out of demand as it experienced growth in foot traffic in its stores throughout the quarter, however talk from management is mostly about expectations resetting and difficult consumer conditions, and with big ticket purchases (those over $500) falling 16% year over year it is easy to see why management would speak conservatively.

Top line profit forecasts were also trimmed at Lowe's for the year by $0.04, and the company is slowing its store building. It planned about 66 stores this year and now only has plans for 45 next year. But even with an American consumer getting more confident towards the end of the year, is there going to be enough bite for the big ticket items Lowe's and Home Depot rely on for profitability. If Cash For Clunkers showed anything, its that the consumer can be tempted with a good deal, albeit one sponsored by the government. However with hundreds of thousands of Americans having now just spent copious amounts of money on new cars, will they have anything left for their homes before the end of the year?

Disclosure: Author holds no position in the companies mentioned

11 August, 2009

GM makes Marketing Splash with Chevy Volt

The plug-in Electric Vehicle that's supposed to usher in a General Motors of the future has had a tumultuous lifespan thus far, but to its credit the company continues to plow ahead with the Chevrolet Volt the best way it can. By winning the marketing war early!

The Volt has been the focus of numerous stories since its unveiling and subsequent planned 2010 debut, but today's might just be the most fascinating. GM has come out to say that the Volt will be rated an astonishing 230MPG. Now if that number seems quite extraordinary, you'd be part of the perceptive crowd, because clearly there is more to the story.

There is no comparative standardized measure for electric-gasoline hybrid vehicles like the Volt and standard highway and city mpg fuel economy tests are 10 mile continuous drives. The Volt, on the other hand has a range of 40 Miles on a single charge, so technically the MPG figure would be infinite as for the first 40 Miles, as the car would be using no fuel at all.

That's where it gets a little bit complicated as the engine on the Volt provides an additional 260 Miles of range on a single tank and thus on a 100 mile cruise, 60 of which are powered by petrol, the MPG figure would drop to about 80 MPG, and continue to decline as the drive gets longer. The engine also provides power to charge internal systems, but a recharge of the battery is said to take about 10 kilowatt hours, which CEO Fritz Henderson has said would cost about 40 cents. There was no subsequent mention of just where in these American cities will there be public infrastructure to support these vehicles, but if there's one thing the Stimulus package should have money for, it ought to be this.

While the 230MPG claim may be just that, it does have some merit, and more importantly it puts GM ahead of the competition and in the driver's seat when it comes to America's automotive future. Advertising sells just about everything in this world, and seeing a number like that splashed across automotive publications and the Internet while swing the ball of goodwill into GM's corner.

And goodwill is one thing the company will need in spades if it continues with plans to launch an IPO on the year anniversary of its dealings with bankruptcy.

07 August, 2009

Jobs jobs jobs spark continued rally

American payroll numbers came in this morning and the results were as good as they could be given current economics. Predicted job losses averaged around 325,000 but initial numbers for July put losses at 247,000. Employers have certainly slowed their layoffs in June and July. Additionally the June number was revised downward from 467,000 to 443,000.

Now, that's a lot of numbers in one paragraph but the underlying message is this. Things are slowly moving forward in the job market, and stemming job losses, which in turn will turn into job creation is the only way towards full economic recovery. Now, some will say that the country is still losing jobs, and that the continuing number of losses in this recession stands at near 7Million, a record for post WWII. Both those facts are true, however an important metric, the unemployment rate, fell from 9.5% to 9.4%, despite expectations that it would rise another 10 basis points.

The jobs report, along with the first profitable quarter from AIG (AIG), up 9%, in almost 2 years sent stocks higher in morning trade, with the DOW climbing about 100 points.

31 July, 2009

End of July Market Musings & Microhoo deal

As another month comes to a close, the market's resistance proof rally continues on the strength of strong earnings and more signs of a waning recession. GDP numbers out for the previous quarter showed a decline of 1% in American GDP, this was better than the expected 1.5% decline, which showed economists that slowly but surely the United States is making its way out of the recession.

But the markets knew that in March right?! As the S%P continues to fly from March lows of near 650 to to cusp of 1000 yesterday. Just about a 50% rise for the broad market indicator. The real driver of this continuing rally is the strength in Corporate Earnings this quarterly season, which will be a difficult act to follow for the remainder of the summer as those results fade and current unemployment rears its head again. However, companies now have learned, adapted and retooled their operations and streamlined their businesses during the economic bottom (1st quarter of this year) and are now awaiting the increases in demand that are expected to come in the 2nd half of this calendar year.

On the deal front in recent news, was the Internet Search deal between Microsoft (MSFT) and Yahoo (YHOO). By combining search operations to Microsoft and sales operations to Yahoo the companies hope to put a dent into market leader Google (GOOG). However, the deal has widely been panned for Yahoo, with Investors sending shares down heavily in the few days after the deal was officially announced. The partnership is a revenue sharing one with no payments made upfront and is a far cry from the $40Billion buyout offer Microsoft initiated, nor is it even close to the $1Billion Microsoft most recently offered in cash along with Billions more in stock purchases.

The news media certainly has the right grasp, as the deal, which Yahoo had always held the upper hand on, has gone completely to Microsoft. Yahoo essentially gave away 20% Market Share in search, for cost savings and the chance to deal with all the sales hassles related to Search Advertising between both companies. Microsoft will now control about 28% of search queries through its new Search Engine but it still has a ways to go to get to the monetization levels Google has spent the last few years achieving. And that doesn't even begin to mention the complexities in integration relating to the now-coined "Microhoo" partnership. Executives at both companies expect this to take 2 years to get through fully. That's about half a lifetime on the Internet I'm afraid, so while Google will wave its hands and put pressure on both companies to drag out the legal battles, secretly they've got to be happy, as 2 years of distractions await their newest competitor, now with 8.5% market share, Bing!

Disclosure: Author owns GOOG

23 July, 2009

That's why they call him the Oracle of Omaha...

Recommended Reading (Link): Interesting take from Bloomberg today on Berkshire Hathaway and its iconic Investment Mind Warren Buffett.

In short, in the midst of the financial crisis the "Oracle of Omaha" pledged support for Goldman Sachs in the form of a $5Billion investment of preferred shares and warrants to purchase $5Billion in Goldman common stock.

Mr. Buffett, for his company Berkshire Hathaway, has since made $2Billion in profits on paper on these warrants, since Goldman's earnings blowout and subsequent climb to the mid $160s. The warrants give Berkshire the opportunity to purchase Goldman shares at $115 anytime within 4 years. Not to mention the preferred shares are paying out $500Million in annual dividends.

Disclosure: Author owns Goldman Sachs

21 July, 2009

Apple earnings on tap after Tuesday's close. [Update]

Update: Apple's reported earnings included.

What can Apple Investors and traders expect after the bell today as one of tech's giants reports its June quarter? Well if one thing is certain with Apple, each line of business will be speculated on ad nauseum starting at about 4:30PM Eastern Time.

Likely much of the focus will be on the Mac and iPhone businesses. New price cuts for Mac Computers were implemented recently and according to shipment data and analyst reports, this could be a driver for higher unit sales and perhaps, less than hopelessly conservative guidance for September. The launch of the iPhone 3GS was a great success in the middle of June, which will likely prop unit sales significantly above previous expectations, however comparisons against the iPhone 3G launch are far more difficult as its launch window fell at the beginning of the July-September quarter of last year.

Of course, analysts will ask the company about Steve Jobs, who returned to work towards the tail end of June, after a 6 month medical leave. The company has come under intense scrutiny for not commenting on the health of its CEO, however, it goes without saying everyone in the extended Apple community hopes for good news for a long time to come on that front.

So, to the quarter. The average analyst estimates paint a picture of Profits at about $1.17/share on Revenue of $8.2Billion. Slowly as the quarter has come along, analyst numbers for Apple's unit sales have crept up and with that too went the Revenue target.

Year over year comparisons vs estimates for the quarter are as follows:

  • 2008 Macs: 2.496Million Units vs 2009 Macs: 2.5Million Units
  • 2008 iPods: 11.011Million Units vs 2009 iPods: 9.5Million Units
  • 2008 iPhones: 717,000 Units vs 2009 iPhones: 5Million Units
Actual June quarter 2009 Unit Sales:
  • Macs: 2.6Million Units
  • iPods: 10.2Million Units
  • iPhones: 5.2Million Units
Now, with Macs expected to be roughly the same in terms of units and iPods down year over year, the real growth story is the iPhone. A year ago, there was incredible pent-up demand for the iPhone 3G, which led to the units sales figures in 2008 for the quarter. This year, analysts are far more optimistic with the iPhone, and have already had some help as Apple announced first weekend sales figures of the iPhone 3GS at over 1Million units.

While those 3 major product lines represent the bulk of Apple's cash creation business, not to be overlooked are the percentage of revenue that is derived by iTunes, the AppStore, Software and other accessories. Last year the Music, Software and Other categories of Apple's business represented $1.76Billion in Revenue.

Revenue Breakdown for June quarter 2008
  • Macs: $3.60Billion
  • iPods: $1.68Billion
  • iPhones: $419Million
  • Music, Software and Other: $1.76Billion
iTunes continues to grow as the online music destination and the AppStore which had no presence a year ago has gone on to become the biggest software platform in the world today with over 1.5Billion applications downloaded. Yes, most applications sold are "free" and Apple makes very little profit from this even with its 30% share of Revenue, but this drives adoption of iPhone and the more expensive iPod Touch units which drive margins higher.

While it will be hard to maintain gross margins of 34.8% given price cuts on the Mac line and the back to school iPod Touch promotion, it is possible for Apple to maintain these levels given the increased presence of the iPhone in terms of Revenue and Profits.

Total iPhone units sold to date represent 21.17Million Units and with another 5Million units estimated in this quarter it'll bring the total to about 26Million units sold to date and given Apple's deferred Revenue accounting this running total is very important as all iPhones are still contributing 1/8th of their sale price to this quarterly report.

WC Power Tech Fund Investment Blog Revenue estimates for Apple's Quarter:
  • Macs: $3.3Billion in Revenue vs. Actual Mac Revenue of $3.329Billion
  • iPhone: $2.1Billion in Revenue vs. Actual iPhone Revenue of $1.689Billion
  • iPods: $1.25Billion in Revenue vs. Actual iPod Revenue of $1.492Billion
  • Music, Software and Other: $2.1Billion in Revenue vs. Actual Other Revenue of $1.827Billion
All told, $8.75Billion in Revenue, given similar margin treatment as a year-ago, which brings profits on 890Million shares outstanding to the $1.40/share level. If this is similar to what Apple officially brings to the table today after the close, the bulls on the stock, will have something to continue to cheer about, despite the increasingly hollow guidance-chasing game.

Apple's results:
  • $8.34Billion in Revenue
  • $1.38 Basic EPS (890Million Shares) & $1.35 Diluted EPS (909Million Shares)
Disclosure: Author owns AAPL.

14 July, 2009

Goldman, Johnson earnings upsides lead choppy day in the markets

Goldman Sachs (GS) was the center of the banking world over the last 2 days as an upgrade of the company by its lonesome propelled the entire financial sector higher to start the week. Today the numbers came and they were impressive.

Goldman, still as black-of-a-financial-box as there is on Wall Street proved that its formula still prints greenbacks. Despite an over-the-top piece in Rolling Stone magazine calling Goldman Sachs a money-sucking 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea creature, the bank just keeps on rolling and keeps on paying its employees. After taking in $13.8Billion in Revenues (vs. $10.6Billion estimate) the company set aside over $6.65Billion for employee compensation and earned $3.44Billion, or $4.93/share. The bright-eyed Wall-Streeters were expecting a still brilliant but in hindsight subdued $3.65/share in profits. Yes Goldman is taking on more risk with the VAR (Amount Goldman can lose every day) number climbing on a year-over-year basis to the $240Millions from the $180s Millions but GS has proven time and again to be the most adept at assimilating increasing risk, and with no TARP monkey on its back, the bank can continue to attract that top-prized talent, and compensate that talent well past market standards. Goldman stock is virtually flat today, as most gains were made yesterday on the pre-earnings analyst upgrade. A complete break-down of Goldman's earnings announcement is provided by Bloomberg (Link).

Despite Goldman tripling of its lows of $50 in November, and a double from its recent dip in March to $75, the company stock at $150 is still off of 2007 highs of $250/share. Now it certainly wont be easy to get there soon, and even the mighty Goldman will need economic help to continue surging, however it is the best company in its sector and despite a 77% upside performance year to date, it is a financial institution that is leaving its competitors in the rear-view mirror faster than any other industry leader can boast.

Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), the consumer giant, was also on tap in the earnings game and after a pre-market spike, the stock came back to hover up only about a single percentage point. Despite lower profits on a year-over-year basis JNJ still beat expectations and turned markets from a bearish tone into one that was decidedly more bullish. The ongoing recession, turbulence in global currencies and competition from generics were the main causes of blame for JNJ's 3% drop in earnings, however spending cuts and a tighter business belt helped the health company beat expectations in the quarter.

JNJ reduced spending on administration, research and sales by about 13% and reduced production costs by 6% according to Forbes. The company earned $1.15/share (vs. 1.17/share last year and estimates of $1.11/share) on $15.24Billion in Revenue (vs. 16.45Billion last year and estimates of $15Billion). So although both the top and bottom line numbers were down year over year, the company managed to top estimates on both important metrics in a economic marketplace that was called by the company CFO as one of the most difficult in company history. The company stills right in the middle now of its 52-week range, and with a yield of over 3% is an attractive consumer staple for a balanced portfolio. With re-assurances from management on 2009 profitability, its a name that will give steady market performance despite dragging American unemployment.

Disclosure: Author owns GS

08 July, 2009

Google's Vision of Life to be Subsidized by Advertisers

The techno-worlds of open-source and standards-compliance are united in celebration on the heels of Google's (GOOG) announcement of a new and upcoming platform called Chrome OS. A new giant has awaken to try and breach the Windows stranglehold of the modern world. Free and widely available Linux couldn't do it, the fawned-over and renowned Mac OS X still can't do it, but perhaps the quirky little giant that is Google can lead a way towards universal, free and open salvation.

Google's announcement that it is in fact working on a full fledged Personal Computer Operating System shouldn't really come as a surprise given that over the past year and a half it has launched the Android OS for Mobile Devices and Chrome, the first browser to have individual process management, a staple of every flavor of operating system in the modern computing world. Rumors of Google's OS work span back years in the blogosphere, but nothing was concrete until today's unveiling of Chrome OS, an operating system to run on full household computers based on Google technology and an open source Linux under-pinning.

By marketing this move into Operating System territory on the back of its growing Chrome browser user-base, Google is squarely taking a web-centric view of the computing world. Coincidentally, after years of perpetual beta, Google removed the beta label off of several products in its Apps suite, charting a path towards an enterprise serious attitude that the company has of yet never employed. First Google Apps gets a fresh coat of grown-up paint and now Google eyes the netbook market as the first for its full fledged operating system. Microsoft (MSFT) better not turn a blind eye to these threats like it has to others who have tried to vault into its dominant space.

After mostly shrugging off Apple's jabs at Windows Vista and watching itself slowly but surely lose some market share, it still took the worst worldwide recession in generations to get Microsoft's attention to start firing back at competitors. This is a company that cannot afford to rest on its laurels, nor one that can afford to blow dollar after dollar in a blinding struggle for relevance in markets that it is an also-ran in (i.e. Internet Search). Google's head on assault began years ago as it made the web (and inherently itself) the first destination for millions of computer users, then it got them hooked on a new way of looking at e-mail, then followed that with calendars and slowly simple documents and spreadsheets, all while being dismissed by market leaders as too simple or too weak for real use. Newsflash to those competitors: Majority of people only really need simple and weak, and powerful office suites and complex operating systems exist on most computers because there was no other choice!

The web browser is the portal to the new technology world and Google, Microsoft and Apple (AAPL) all know it, however Google's become the most nimble of the three at being able to adapt to it. Chrome was a starting point, and while getting 30 million users in 9 months is a good start, it is still just a tiny fraction of the web population, so Google's got a long way to go before it can claim the browser Chrome a success. Chrome OS on the other hand is a different animal, it'll be the only thing users need to get up and running on a new computer while having simple native tasks be quick and web tasks even quicker. As new web technologies evolve along with the growing presence of "offline" web apps, there was still always a need to have some distinction between the browser and the operation system. That line is blurring and perhaps Google's figured this out and may just have found a way to combine the two under Chrome's umbrella. Brilliant, if it were available today, but unfortunately for Google and its users the creation of a platform needs the help of several building partners, since no one buys an operating system off the shelf these days. Except of course for loyal Mac purists, which love having their Mac OS X be the latest and greatest, and given Apple's pricing commitment to the next version of OS X its a hard upgrade to pass up. Kudos to Apple for figuring out people can still want to buy software off the shelf.

$29 for a new version of an operating system, that's an incredible price from the folks at Cupertino, and something Microsoft's bean-counters certainly cannot match with Windows 7. However, someone can, and that someone is Google! Chrome OS, like the Chrome browser, is of course based on open-source software, and in and of itself will be open-source, just like Google's Android OS is for mobile phones. What that means is that Chrome OS will cost NOTHING to computer manufacturers who will shoe-horn it into the netbooks/laptops/desktops of the future. Tough to compete with free! Especially if its quality free from a source as reputable as Google.

But herein lies the rub, what's in it for Google? All these free services and platforms can't just be a secret desire to topple the greatest technology behemoth of all time, can it? Of course not, Google's clearest path to monetization is to get users onto the web as quickly, efficiently and distraction-free as possible, because it wants to be the one doing the distracting with advertisements of all shapes and sizes, from text ads in search, to display ads on the network, to video ads on youTube and everything else under the sun. How do you provide web users the easiest route to the web? Well build your own free multi-lane uber-autobahns with Android and now Chrome OS. The two pillars of the web of the future and Google will have troops at each one, mobile and home computing.

The more time users spend on the web, and the more tasks they begin shifting to the web, the better for Google and the more opportunities Google gets to serve up ads from its vast and numerically superior stable of advertisers. This is why Google is free, in its eyes Life should be subsidized by advertising, and advertising of the future will all become Internet based and completely traceable because it gives the advertiser complete metrics and Return-On-Investment calculations to the tiniest detail that are unmatched in any other ad-based marketplace. And as Televisions and Radios become Internet enabled in the future, bet Google will be right there with the expertise to build out a similar type of ad network. Google is more than willing to subsidize its own development costs if its able to produce a pathway to a Google-centric web that others wouldn't or couldn't replicate.

As encompassing as technology and the web already are in everyday life, we've yet to scratch even the earliest of limits, with every piece of new technology becoming web-enabled the inter-connections between people and their technology becomes further encompassing, with the cloud becoming a centralized hub forcing information separation to consist only of virtual borders. A prospect not completely sold to business just yet, but the power of the crowd, and the cost-effectiveness of the cloud will break down those barriers. How will all this happen, and who will pay for it? As Mark Cuban recently wrote about the prospects of free business, the biggest problem is the continued expectation of free and the inability of the biggest pushers of free-service to keep costs in check and monetization opportunities plentiful. That thesis is very much on the mark, no pun intended, by how it related to business, but what it misses, is the relationship of consumers as the end-goal for the real buyers of free: The advertisers.

The Internet, being the disruptive technological platform that it is, essentially drives costs of everything to near zero. This is due to the simple phenomenon that if everyone is connected to everything, there's always someone who'll do something for cheaper, until the cost of that something is driven close enough to zero to become minuscule. And the ones paying the bills at that point will rely on advertising for profitability, and the advertisers will rely on their ads working to then sell products and services and in turn pay their own bills. Google just happens to be the biggest entity making use of the free economy that is the Internet, using all of its advertisers to pay for its storage, bandwidth and corporate costs.

Advertising is funding an over-indulgence in all things web, but subsidizing life, that seems like a stretch right? Currently yes, but as the computer and the Internet is engulfed by all of the younger generations for communications, commerce, entertainment, social networking, dating & relationships and more, it will start to look startlingly close to the major components of life.

Imagine if the brick & mortar world worked this way? Say there was a Google that would pay for everyone's gasoline, provided they had a billion lane road to a super-shopping center, and drove a car they purchased but had customized by Google to point out interesting things along the road and showcase the occasional billboard tailored to an individual's needs and previous purchases. How many would turn that down? And after sometime of that model working, I'd say the brick & mortar Google would even be willing to take you to the lot and pay for the vehicle, guaranteeing it would always work perfectly on those roads to the mall. All subsidized of course by your friendly neighbourhood Spidermen, umm, I mean Mad Men.

Disclosure: Author owns GOOG, AAPL

06 July, 2009

EMC ups the ante on Data Domain in Technology Bidding War

EMC Corporation (EMC), not exactly a household technology name, but one that business knows all too well as the company is involved in various lines of business supporting technology infrastructure and storage all around the world. The company has turned itself into a healthy income generator providing solutions for businesses in the areas of Information Storage, Information Management and Security.

Most notably for EMC of late has been its attempt to expand its reach over the IT crowd, including, but certainly not limiting to simply protecting its position against the blue-chip Tech giants of today. It spun off a piece of popular virtualization company VMWare (VMW) into an IPO two years ago and now for its latest move has set it sights on winning a bidding war for specialized storage company Data Domain (DDUP). On the other end of the table is NetApp (NTAP), a firm very much in the same corporate storage business that EMC wants to dominate.

With Data Domain initially accepting an offer from NetApp for $1.9Billion, EMC countered with something similar offering $30/share in late May, which now has been bumped to $33.50/share. An enterprise value of $2.1Billion, which is calculated by the $2.4Billion offer price, minus nearly $300Million of Data Domain cash. Traders think the last has yet to be seen in this back and forth, as shares of DDUP continue to climb being pushed to $34 in today's market.

Data Domain the takeover play? Certainly, with both companies having gone back and forth already, it'll be interesting to see how much value NetApp has put on the company. Will there be another bid, or as analysts seem to think, is this it and has EMC sealed the deal?

Lots of questions, but if the traders, and not the analysts, are to be believed this one isn't over. With major markets settling down after an astounding bump from the lows in March, this acquisition story is an opportunity in the tech sector, and one that investors should watch closely. I believe NetApp will think long and hard about it, and if there's another move from the other side, EMC will move in for $37 and cement its grip on the world of specialty corporate storage.

Winning the bid for Data Domain solidifies an already strong corporate technology business for EMC, and with virtualization wildly seen as the now and the future of cost savings in Information Technology, EMC is in the drivers seat of a major stock ramp up at the first concrete signs of economic normalcy. In the $12-$13 range its still the underrated, and the unsung hero of technology names to own.

Disclosure: Author holds no position in any company mentioned.

30 June, 2009

Morning trade halts stock rally

100 points off for the Dow before lunch as markets in North America prepare for National Holidays. Canadian Markets close tomorrow for Canada Day while Americans prepare for the 4th of July weekend leaving markets in trading flux for the week. Today's decline was pushed in part by a lower reading of consumer confidence for the month of June. May highs in consumer confidence retreated partly in June, putting some traders on edge over the supposed recoveries in consumer spending expected this summer.

The world media has seen its share of tragedy this past week with the deaths of Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and the King of Pop Michael Jackson. The 'Thriller' singer's death has overshadowed many noteworthy market moments of the past few days due to the sheer global reach of Jackson's fame. The legacy of this great singer, and polarizing personality, will be up to debate seemingly forever.

At the top of the market pages was the sentencing of Bernie Madoff, responsible for the biggest individual Investment Fraud of all time, now getting his just due, with a sentence of 150 years in prison and the forfeiture of virtually all his related assets.

Other noteworthy market swings included a further decline of housing prices and a drop in Oil. Housing prices tumbled 18% year over year, as well as 0.6% month over month in April and Oil retreated back below $70, settling around $69 a barrel.

23 June, 2009

The Grounded Plane: Boeing delays 787 Dreamliner

Technical complications, worker strikes, and everything in between has at one point or another hampered Boeing's (BA) ability to deliver its much-delayed 787 Dreamliner aircraft. The stock took an almost 7% dive today, adding to a 40% drop in the last year and a 50% drop since October of 2007. That being the announcement of the first 787 delay for the aircraft company.

Investor patience is being tested to the limits with Boeing as it is in a sharp fight with rival Airbus for future contracts in an industry marred with carriers in serious financial trouble, given the latest economic fallout and fluctuations in energy prices. Boeing has historically seen several missteps as it works on its revolutionary, next generation plane and what had been seen as a sales boom for the company is now once again stalled at the factory.

The aircraft is a first for many reasons, from its 250-seat advanced interior to its exterior made entirely of composite materials, an industry first. Boeing was confident in its ability to deliver the aircraft in the first half of next year to its customers, however delaying the first flight indefinitely due to newly-found exterior stresses, will likely push dates back by months. This news did not please investors in today's trading session, sending shares lower by $3.

What's in store for Boeing stock? The March lows of around $30 will still be the complete floor of support, unless the general economic footprint fails further, so any pullback into the low $40s is attractive for this large-cap with a nearly 4% dividend yield. Remember, this stock was in the $80s a year ago, despite having already delayed the 787 several other times. So when that first flight and initial delivery take place next year, those are catalysts that provide the company with two major milestones to appease investors. Aircraft have been in the news recently for the most tragic of events, as the investigation into the Air France Airbus crash continues, but precisely when the mood is most distraught around an industry, is when some attractive valuations can be found. Is it Boeing's time in the mid $40s? Yes, but buy in parts, and if the stock retreats to $40 it'll itself be a Dreamliner in the year(s) to come.

Disclosure: Author holds no position in BA

15 June, 2009

Markets sink Monday on Economics as Politics rears its head

Well, the week that wasn't, was it fact followed swiftly by heavily directed market action. The bears came out Monday and sent stocks lower from the start of trading as the Dow has been hovering another the minus 200 point total all afternoon.

Weak economic signs triggered some of the sell-off, which was broad enough to come to stocks and commodities. A Home Builder survey citing a drop in confidence was partly to blame, as was a New York survey of a decline in factory activity, according to the Wall St. Journal. Oil also slid, falling back towards $70/barrel after spiking to the mid $70s last week.

With option expiration occurring at the end of this week, traders are looking at where lock-ins are likely to be. Lock-ins being the certain levels stocks regularly fluctuate and float towards during options expiration week. While several economists and general "experts" are throwing around the term "green shoots" these days, the market's rally since the March lows proved that stocks at attractive valuations can recover to fair value in almost no time at all, given even glimmers of prospective recovery. Many are hopeful for economic recovery by the end of this year, however the still rising unemployment is tempering optimism and political fighting between Republicans and Democrats on everything including the most trivial of issues does not invoke the confidence Americans need in their government at a time of broken-down micro and macro-economics climates.

The President and his administration are trying to fight battles on several fronts and it appears to be taking its toll. The financial situation, the automotive situation, housing, health care and education reform, and the stimulus package are only some of the bigger areas where President Obama and his team are entrenched for change, and involved in business more heavily than any world leader would want to be. Could an agenda push too broad for its own good be responsible for the latest setbacks in the stock markets as businesses see future profitability diminished by stricter rules and regulation?

Most investors, economists and traders know significant overhaul is needed, though many don't accept several sweeping changes at once. The bankruptcy in the American auto sector, leading to government ownership and European partnership for 2 of the big 3 has turned that industry on its head. The financial fallout of the credit crisis is still very much at the top of the heap of troubles in the United States, with the Treasury and the President rolling out new reforms and a plan of action for the financial sector which will undoubtedly bring about increased regulation, not likely to appease profit seeking investors. The health care issue, the latest on the President's seemingly worldwide tour of change, may bring prosperity to some, in the field of electronic medical records and cost-saving technology, but is sure to complicate business for the private insurers and medical practitioners who in the future see a potential competitor in the public sector.

An agenda this broad and this ambitious is always met with an incredible number of challenges, but the time may not only be right, but may in fact be perfect, allowing America to somewhat reset itself stronger and leaner, more productive and more profitable in the years to come. As the economy recovers and some banks pay back TARP money and some infrastructure projects begin in the summer across America and some medical institutions start saving costs, the up swell of goodwill can spread across the country and public perception will lead to spending, leading to profitability, and leading to stock market advances.

Stocks are taking a breather today, after a 40% rally its almost expected, but looking to the future, the Investor should not be afraid of an administration taking drastic steps, but should embrace the goal that all investors share. Prosperity

12 June, 2009

The Non-Week that was. Markets remain flat

Although financially, politically and economically a lot happens each and every week in this game, sometimes you wouldn't know it by looking through the stock pages. Both the Bulls and Bears are pushing for some direction but neither is making any headway.

The tally on the S&P for the week, barring a late Friday afternoon directional miracle: +0.6%!. The same for the Dow Jones, while the Nasdaq lags at a weekly loss of 0.3%.

As Options expiration nears at the end of next week, Traders will likely have more ammunition to find a direction. So as one of the more brilliant pieces of advertising these days dictates:
Stay thirsty, my friends.

08 June, 2009

Apple cuts Mac prices, unveils Software and new iPhone at WWDC

The yearly developer showcase that is Apple's (AAPL) Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) kicked off with a keynote, once again sans-Jobs, but was packed with several software and hardware announcements.

Consider Palm's (PALM) highly touted Pre smart phone sold well in its first weekend the landscape for telecom mind share had shifted away from Apple for at least a short while. Analysts early estimates point to sales of about 50,000 Pre devices in the first weekend for Palm, which compares to about 270,000 devices when the original iPhone went on sale and 1,000,000 units for the iPhone 3G. While it may be unfair to compare launches since Sprint is a much smaller carrier compared to AT&T, and the iPhone 3G launched in a multitude of countries, its the media that counts. Palm made a good sized dent during the Pre's announcement, sales will have to continue to deliver if it hopes to turn that dent into a crack.

But when Apple takes the stage for any event, competitors in each line of business must be anxcious, hoping to be able to breathe a sigh of relief as the rumors come and go with little to no surprises. At today's event, it seems every business Apple is in, it made headaches for its competitors.

The Computer Hardware business: Apple reduced pricing on virtually all of its machines, turning the well designed aluminum laptops into a family of MacBook Pro machines starting at $1199 for the 13 inch computer formally known as simply a MacBook. The slim MacBook Air also got a price cut and Apple kept the $999 price point on the previous generation white plastic MacBook. The only model in the line to keep only the MacBook name.

The Computer Software business: Mac OS X Snow Leopard, branded and versioned like a full OS upgrade, was priced like a going out of business sale. $29 for the next version of Apple's Operating System due in September, has got to make the folks at Microsoft (MSFT), who are rolling out Windows 7 a month later, a little bit edgy.

The Phone business: Apple, having repeatedly said, didn't want to leave a price umbrella for competitors has finally publicly brandished an iPhone on the world for $99. While unveiling a 'newer, better, faster, stronger' iPhone 3GS, sounds like a Porsche doesn't it, the company kept its $199/$299 pricing for the new models, setting the existing iPhone at the magic 99 figure. This puts tremendous pressure on the makers of Blackberries, and Androids, and especially the Pre, which is $199 after a $100 rebate.

Many hoped, Steve Jobs would make at least a minor show-stopping appearance, the rumor mill still has Apple's iconic CEO returning to work at the end of the month, which will put several analysts and many potential investors at ease. Apple's year-to-date run up of 69% has showed that Investors feel the company can survive without Steve or they are already sure he will return. However, the company still stands $60/share away from those gaudy 2007 highs, with a business models that combined are selling more devices than ever.

Disclosure: Author is long AAPL

02 June, 2009

Console Makers battle for fans taking over Gaming Expo

Video Games and Movies, the two business channels that were least hit by floundering worldwide economics. Box Office receipts and attendance are at or near records and the growth of gaming, while pausing slightly, still stands out as a tech sector on the rise. With gaming options like Nintendo's (NTDOY) Wii & DS, Apple's (AAPL) iPod Touch & iPhone, Microsoft's (MSFT) XBox and Sony's (SNE) Playstation 3 & PSP the kids (and ever increasing adults) these days have choices aplenty.

The Electronic Entertainment Expo goes on as we speak and it has been an interesting couple of days with keynote speeches by the big 3 console makers; Microsoft, Nintendo & Sony. While its been common knowledge that Nintendo and its motion controlled & causal gamer placed Wii has been the big winner in this generation of the console wars, with NDP data showing it outselling the XBox by 2:1 and the PS3 by a factor of 2.5:1 lately, the true test is likely to be longevity.

It's no surprise that laggards Microsoft and Sony had to deliver something to excite fans and developers in order to gain traction against Nintendo. It was the folks from Redmond up first yesterday with a keynote speech that excited not only the XBox faithful but fence-sitters alike.
Not only was the XBox opened up for several applications including social networks Twitter and Facebook and music streaming service Last.fm, it also introduced several enticing games and a entirely new control system.

It was the control system that garnered the heaviest reaction. "Project Natal", as it was coined, gives players a way to become the controller for their games. A camera system with facial and voice recognition follows a player's movements and can translate them onscreen for gaming interactions. The Microsoft team showed off several demos, straight out of Minority Report, of the "still-in-development" technology but it was very promising and it goes completely the other way from Nintendo's popular Wii motion controls. A development high-point for Microsoft in the gaming world? Or would Sony steal some thunder with their own announcements just a day later?

Sony's day had arrived and the company had several announcements to make, first a foremost another handheld system, dubbed the PSP Go. Sony will continue selling its existing PSP which has slowly but surely been selling very well for the company (although not as well as Nintendo's DS line or Apple's iPod Touch). With this new version Sony is going to full digital distribution for games and media making it a direct competitor to the aforementioned iPod. With 16GB of storage it undercuts the iPod's price by $50 ($249 vs $299).

Not to be outdone, Sony also jumped into the Motion Control business with a new controller. Internet outlets were quick to praise Sony's efforts as the motion control (based on a similar technology as Hollywood CGI & Motion Capture) allow the player to use the controller for a vast spectrum of game situations with incredible control accuracy. One of the demos showed off how to "air-write" with the controller, with incredibly precise results. The difference between Sony's and Microsoft's new controller entries is that in Microsoft's case the player actually need a controller to play.

Along with an army of popular game developers, both Sony and Microsoft made their case to the video game community that they are not only in the business to try and win and despite Nintendo's early lead, but also want to allow this generation of console hardware to still go strong. If today's announcement are any indiciation there's plenty of innovation left in the space. But what does E3 have to do with Investing?

Sony, despite its size is a vast gaming operation, and with the company posting its first yearly loss, it needs the Gaming operation to deliver incredible results in the years going forward. This will not happen without 1) Exciting innovations in the hardware (and lower costs) and 2) Developers excited about making games for that hardware. Sony has been in 3rd place in console sales since the PS3 launch but it has a long lifetime committed to the platform and even still sells a lot of PS2 machines. The bet on Blu-Ray as a standard will be debated for a long time as to whether it helped or hurt the PS3 in its early years, but the fact remains that Sony still loses money on each sale. The one thing consumers are clamoring for they still haven't received with the machine and that's a deeper price cut! Until it can cut those costs, Sony may simply have to suffer through more months at number 3 on the sales charts.

But with an upcoming stable of games, the new PSP Go and an impressive Motion Controller demo Sony is hitting the right track with Gamers and Developers, and Sony's stock followed suit with a gain of over 2% to close at $28/share.

Microsoft on the other hand, prints money from Windows and Office and doesn't really need a Gaming division, or does it? It in fact needs the XBox to succeed now more than ever for one simple reason. Image! Microsoft has a huge image problem amongst the computer using youth, with a floundering Windows Mobile team being eclipsed by Apple's iPhone, the disaster that was Windows Vista opening the door to more mainstream Mac usage, and the ignorance of anything related to Search the company can come up with due to Google's dominance in the area. This "Old-man's" Microsoft, being out-innovated by hipster companies will eventually trickle down to its core businesses.

The devices group may be that saving grace, while the Zune hadn't exactly lit anything on fire, the original XBox was a good start that has picked up steam with the XBox 360. The innovations of Project Natal, specifically the player controller, are the kinds of things the computer buying youth can get excited about, and once you've got them, if Microsoft can link the XBox brand with the Microsoft corporate image, a Windows user may come back or emerge. Microsoft stock was up about 2% on the day of its E3 speech and sits at $21.40/share.

While Video Games may have been child's play in the past, this business is as important as ever and some of the biggest tech names on the planet rely on a little old conference to reshape an entire corporate vision. Maybe its time to put a little stock into what things like E3 and those who attend have to say.

Disclosure: Author owns AAPL, holds no position in any stock mentioned.