It's no longer Steve Jobs' Apple
It's a new company, and investors need a new way to think.
I'm a long-time Apple (AAPL) shareholder, which by definition, automatically makes me a "permabull."
But for my appreciation of quality products I've also learned to accept "Apple fanboy," which has become the most popular and yet tired description. It's a badge of honor worn by anyone who dares to state publicly that he or she likes Apple.
However, unlike those who have a profound hatred for Apple, for no reason other than the fact that it's become a popular thing to do, I can change my mind. I have logic on my side. Logic says that Apple is in transition. It began when Steve Jobs died. As an investor, it's foolish to not embrace this change and adjust your expectations, regardless of how difficult this mental changeover may be.Let's recall it's been two full quarters since Apple's current CEO, Tim Cook, stated publicly that Apple is "not a hardware company." He didn't say this once, but twice. Cook, who has become a popular punching bag, also said that "there are other things we (Apple) are doing and could do to have revenue and have profit flow." What Cook understands is that a "new Apple" is coming, and what is leaving is the over-reliance on hardware.
In other words, unlike BlackBerry (BBRY) or Nokia (NOK), buying an Apple product only begins the sales process, it's not the end. There was a point when Apple relied solely on the strength of its Mac sales. The company's "core" was fueled by strong unit shipments of its iPods, iPads and iPhones. It would only rely on its famous ecosystem to help spur hardware growth.
According to Cook, those days are over.
Going forward, it is services that will drive Apple's growth and margins. But Apple bears refuse to accept this. Nor does it seem that this new reality matters to those who are constantly calling for Tim Cook's head. These pundits, meanwhile, pretend to be experts, as if they know better. They've even gone as far as proclaiming themselves "the voice" from Steve Jobs' grave -- talking about matters that they don't really understand. But the fact of the matter is, this is no longer Steve Jobs' Apple. That's right, I've said it.
I love Steve Jobs as much as the next person. I'll be forever grateful for his contribution to not only Apple but to all of humanity. But he's not coming back. At the risk of sounding like I'm speaking for him, I don't believe that he's disappointed with Tim Cook's performance. In this market, especially in the tech sector, everything is relative. How else can you explain that the company posted 1% revenue growth, yet it was considered "better than expected?"
This is a "new Apple." As such, investors need a new way to think. The "quick buck" days of the past five years are over and, as with Steve Jobs, they ain't coming back. What will come back, though, is higher revenue and cash flow, which will spur a much higher stock price. The shares today are too cheap to ignore.
This doesn't mean that I'm not discounting the hardware challenges that Apple still faces from Samsung (SSNLF). I also appreciate that it's going to take better execution to draw the large funds back into the stock.
But this is where things get a bit more interesting.
As narrow-minded as the Street has been about yearly and quarterly revenue growth (Amazon (AMZN) and Google (GOOG) are two perfect examples), it suddenly didn't matter as much to analysts that Apple guided revenue down for the October quarter. In fact, guidance was lowered by as much as 5%, which also implies that revenue will be flat on a quarter-over-quarter basis. Yet, despite the projected decline and unassuming 1% growth in the quarter, the stock has soared by close to 20% since July 1.
This is yet another indication that a "new Apple" is here. Unlike the days of Steve Jobs, I believe that Apple's new capital plan, which includes doubling the cash returned to shareholders over the next two years, will get the stock back up to the $600 level. I'm projecting that this happens by the beginning of 2014. With the buyback program having jumped to $60 billion to go along with a 15% dividend increase, as a shareholder I can't say that I want to return to the days of Steve Jobs.
Before you cry "sacrilege," understand that I'm saying this with all respect due to Jobs. I'm in no way discounting his great legacy. But I understand he also left something else behind: Tim Cook. It's in Cook's hands Jobs confidently left Apple. And the pundits are fooling themselves, pretending they know Cook better than did Steve Jobs.
To that end, for the next couple of years, Apple shareholders will be thanking Jobs for having made that decision.
At the time of publication the author was long AAPL.
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