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