A Falling Knife?

September 9, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Business, Finances, Technology 

It is widely known that two turkeys do not make an eagle.  I’m not sure what made me think of this, I’m not even a golfer. But it seems to me that Microsoft just handed a bunch of their cash to Nokia for what seems to be a desperate move.  Let me explain.

Nokia operates 3 businesses.  For the first half of 2013 none actually made any money.

  • Nokia-Siemens network (~ 50% of their revenue) which is 11% below last year’s revenue and operating at roughly break even.
  • HERE, formerly Navteq, which has imploded to EUR 233M in revenue and losing EUR 100M per quarter. (amazing what an $8B investment can turn into in a few years)
  • Devices and Service, which is what Microsoft made an offer to buy, is responsible for roughly the other 50% revenue, which for the first half of 2013 was EUR 5.6B vs 8.3B for the same period last year.

This business lost “only” EUR 75M for the first half vs EUR691M for the first half of 2012.  So it is improving.  What makes up this revenue, you may ask?  That’s where it gets interesting.  EUR 2.3B is made by the sell of 13.5 mostly Windows based smartphones.  EUR 2.9B from 109.5 million of what they call  “Mobile Phones”, which do not run Microsoft’s operating system.  The rest is services, whatever that really means.  So, a little over a half of their revenue is not only non-Microsoft products, but at an ASP (average sales price) of EUR 26 (yeah, not missing any zeroes, it is twenty six euro per phone).  This is just a small, very, very small fraction of what an Office or Windows license go for these days.  The other 40% is Smartphones, which are mostly Windows based.  Those sold at an alarming EUR 175 ( $232 US) average price.  Compared that to above $600 for an iPhone and above $500 for a Samsung Galaxy makes them one of the lowest in the industry.    They are actually great devices, but they have to almost give them away for the carriers to take them to their customers.  No wonder the division is not making any money!

So, Microsoft handed $7.2B (which is actually less than 10% of their cash at the close of last quarter) for a shrinking business with the lowest sales prices in the industry, 60% of which they have no interest in.  Not surprisingly, Microsoft investors did not like the idea and drove the stock down around 10% in the first couple of days.  One has to imagine that Microsoft thought this was their only chance to get into the fast growing mobility business.  On the other hand, Nokia investors loved the deal.  The stock shot up 50% in the first couple of days!

So what can the deal do for Microsoft?

In their fiscal year 2013, which ended June 30th, Microsoft ran 5 business that produced $77.6B in  revenue with mind-blowing operating earnings of $33.4B.  Every one of these businesses grew from a year ago, except for Windows, which was roughly flat.

  • Business Division, whose main product is the ubiquitous “productivity” suite Office, was 31% of their revenue and 48% of their OE (operating earnings)
  • Servers and Tools, which sells servers, had around 24% of the total revenue and 24% of their O.E.
  • Windows, which was 25% of revenue and 28% of O.E.
  • Online services, which manages Bing among other online offerings, was 4% of revenue and operated at a loss that represented -3% of O.E.
  • Entertainment, which sells Xbox, Surface PCs, and Windows phone was 13% of revenue and produced a modest 2.5% of Microsoft’s yearly earnings.

The latter is where they will probably merge Nokia’s business if the acquisition goes through and probably spin Xbox out as it has been rumored for a long time.  Assuming the revenue stays flat (a big if), it will represent around 20% of Microsoft’s total revenue, but no earnings to speak of.  Their only hope is to drive ASP (average sell prices) up.  And, my fellow reader (singular), there is only one way to do that:  with unique products that customers value their differentiation.

Consumers don’t particularly like Microsoft, but there is a group that has had a long lived love affair with them: I.T.  Most corporate I.T organizations in the world prefer Microsoft to any other operating system.  They trust them and have been supporting them for years.  Microsoft’s only hope is to leverage that.  They will have to relentlessly push for Windows based phones to become the Blackberry of Christmas past.  Focus on professional users by making email, calendar, office, and corporate apps a seamless experience.

That’s all they’ve got.

However, the world of mobility is that of 99 cents apps and free OS.  Clearly not where you want to take a $43.5B business that throws $24.7B in earnings per year selling operating systems and corporate applications. That is a boat load of 99 cent apps.  Apple and Samsung have shown that making significant amounts of money with differentiated hardware in the mobility industry is possible.

The question is, is there room for a third one …

Enjoy.

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The $100 Billion Dollar Apology

November 4, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Business, Technology 

What do you do when you are the most valuable company in the world, you have a cult following your products even when you make huge mistakes like placing the antenna on the wrong place? You become arrogant.  The iOS6 maps disaster has really been a problem for Apple despite the fact that they have an amazing lineup of products.  Google has been improving the Mapping apps for years, so Apple decides to 1-up them for iOS6 and screws up big.

Granted, Tim Cook apologized to Apple fans a few days after.  It took Steve Jobs weeks to acknowledge the “death grip” and that didn’t even make the stock blip.  On the other hand, iOS maps has been more than a blip.  A few days after iPhone5 was announced, AAPL hit above $700 / share.  last week it dipped below $600 meaning more than $100B in market cap loss.  Granted, not all can be explained  by a lousy app, but a big chunk of it can.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that iOS6 maps itself is to blame for the whole $100B,  but it signals what Apple rarely does: screw up functionality.

As I commented here Samsung is starting to become a real competitor thanks to an aggressive product development lineup and a very, very different strategy. They are both vertically integrated, although in a different way.  Samsung fabricate the chips and make the displays Apple uses, but they don’t have the software ecosystem Apple does.  But with the new Galaxy III and Note lines, they are really, really whipping out outstanding products.  Thanks to Android, they have also improved, in this blogger’s humble opinion, the smartphone experience.

But anyway, Apple strategy is a few products, very well done,  not leaving anything to chance, whereas Samsung is a “shotgun strategy” by doing lots of products and then next generations of those who are successful.  Neither does marker research in the traditional sense, but they both know their markets well.  This product development strategy has worked well for both, but has hindered Apples ability to anticipate new needs, like larger screen on phones or smaller screens on tablets.  Apple has just matched Samsung’s successful lineup to a certain extent.

Another difference, again, in my opinion, is recognizing what they do well and double down on it.  Samsung is a strong hardware company and uses third party software to complete the products.  Apple believes they can do software better than anyone else.  That’s their DNA.  I guess Apple’s recent apology that automatically hides itself from users of their UK site kind of proves that.

Well, my loyal reader (singular), they were wrong.  Google Maps is years ahead of iOS maps and that is where arrogance played.  The $100B loss is not due to the maps app, but it is the market recognizing that Apple’s arrogance took the best of them in what could have been the best product they ever made.  I wonder how many consumers decided for Samsung when they were on the fence, just due to Map?   That is one of the most critical in a smartphone!

Now what will Apple’s most faithful followers do is, of course clear.  But since there are also rumors of Samsung doing their own OS this is all for grabs.  If that happens, it will render this blog totally wrong.  But in my defense it will not be the first or the last one like.

Enjoy.

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6 Mobility Predictions

March 11, 2012 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Business, Finances, Technology 

The world of technology, particularly mobility has been one of the most dynamic in the past 2 decades.  Well, it is my contention that it is about to change again, very fast and very drastically.  What was shown in the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) back in January in Las Vegas and the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona at the end of last month is trully game changing.  If you are an investor looking for advice, I suggest you ignore what you’re about to read here.  It is always fun to venture into the predictive “sciences” and look back a couple of months later to see what really happened but by no means I know what I’m talking about.  My time horizon is 12 – 24 months.  So read away and derride if you must.

Prediction #1:  Research in Motion will not be a stand alone company. The makers of the once annoyingly ubiquitous Blackberry have been losing ground since Apple launched the iPhone back in 2007.  Jobs’ creation revolutionized what we now call the smartphone and by most accounts it is the gadget of the decade.  In the meantime RIM tried to position itself as the preferred smartphone by professionals and the only one trusted by IT.  They were and by far.  In June 2008, RIM hit a high of $148 a share.  These days trading at a meager $13.6 indicates a stock in clear trouble.  They are still profitable and at a market cap of roughly $7B someone that needs good hardware can take them out.  Who can that be?  Read along …

Prediction #2:  Nokia will not be a stand alone company.  This story is even sadder.  The ones kings of the cellphone market could not and did not adapt to the smartphone revolution.  The Finnish company once enjoyed a 40%+ market share around the world.  They revolutionized how cellphones were used and they were the first ones to penetrate emerging markets like India or China.  Nokia back in 2008 saw its share price hit the  mid $30’s.  Now it squanders at $5 and even with their market leadership of roughly 24% share in 2011 (down from 28% in 2010) it struggles to stay profitable.  As I posted previously here, Microsoft has partnered with them and has made them their preferred partner for Window Phone 8.  In this blogger’s humble opinion it will take a lot more than $1B of Ballmer’s money to bring Nokia back to life.

Prediction #3:  Android will come of age.  Are you kidding me;  it is the number one selling OS in the smartphone category?  Sure, but it is still immature.  It is very fragmented, some apps don’t run well across devices, each OEM has its own GUI flavor, enterprises don’t like it, IT can’t manage it, and there are tons of stories of malware and malicious apps that have hit it.  Even if OEMs like Samsung, LG, HTC, or Motorola fix that, corporations don’t want to deal with different tools for different devices.  Google will have to get their act together and embrace them.  Their move to acquire Motorola Mobility, that I mentioned here is a testament of their true interest in the space.  What will they do with Motorola’s hardware capabilities still remains to be seen.  But, my loyal reader (singular) you have to agree that nobody spends $12B, even Google, if they don’t have a solid strategy.  Android will be one of the 3 contenders in the smartphone/tablet battle.  Why 3? read along …

Prediction #4:  Samsung will be the next dominant player in consumer products.  This one is a classic vertical integration play.   Samsung owns ICs, displays, manufacturing, etc. they are extremely agile in their development and manufacture products that are state of the art.  If it wasn’t enough, unlike Apple, they believe consumers should have choices, in fact want choices.  For example, Samsung is the only company with a  mobility lineup of 4.3″, 5.2″, 7″, 8.9″, and 10.2″ Android devices and some Windows devices too.    Samsung had about 17% market share in 2011, are extremely profitable, and are among the price leaders in tablets and smartphones.  But that’s not it; they have impressed in recent trade shows with their integration of computers, TVs, smaprthones, tablets, music systems, etc.  A single experience across “all-screens-and-speakers” has always been the dream of the likes of Apple, Sony, Microsoft, and others.  Samsung seems to be the only one executing to it.

Prediction #5:  Microsoft will be a true force in mobility.  I know I’m starting to go out on a limb here.  They have a dismal 6% market share, about 1/2 of RIM’s.  But our friends in Redmond are pouring (to paraphrase Dr. Carl Sagan) billions upon billions of dollars in the quest. I know I’ve said the opposite before (that’s why you should ignore me) but I think this time is real.  Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility also opens the door for Samsung, LG, HTC, and other OEMs to rekindle their romance with Windows if for nothing else, as a hedge against Android’s marriage.  Windows phone 7 was actually pretty good, 7.5 even better.  They were “just” missing OEM adoption and apps.  But in classic Microsoft fashion Windows 8 promises to be the third time is a charm deal. Reports of the beta version of Windows 8 (on a PC) are extremely positive which will revitalize them for the mobile space.  Microsoft is the trusted adviser for corporations across the world and IT will gladly go back to them if users accept it.  The trick will be in the hardware and the ecosystem of apps.  Again, in this blogger’s humble opinion, a combination of what I’ve mentioned in points 1-3 above may be Microsoft’s ticket to mobility.

Prediction #6:  Apple will not continue its reign.  I know this may be out there  and  I’m not saying Apple will go down but at the very least they will slow down their growth.  The main reason of their success may be the cause of their change in fortune.  According g to Cook’s iPad3 launch, Apple sold a mind blowing 172 million devices.  Of those 172 million, even more mind blowing is that around 100 million were iPhones.  Think about that: 1 product (actually 2, black and white) sold in 200 countries!  Essentially Apple believes that 1 product with no changes is ideal for everyone in the world!  My loyal reader I ask you: how sustainable is that, especially when you see their competitors following the opposite approach?  iPad3 was a disappointment not because it is not a great product, it is. It became a “speeds and feeds” game; same old device, but better this and faster that.  It is a reminder of the WinTel era in which you had to have the fastest computer with the most memory and the fastest disk.  Apple themselves made Mobility to be not like that.  The market that Apple changed with music, movies apps, and multipurpose devices is about the experience.  Sure, a better this and a faster that may drive a better experience, but I believe we’re reaching diminishing returns particularly to rush and get one.   iTunes and iCloud bring the continuous experience across iOS device, but it stops there.  On top of that Apple TV was a failure.  There is life outside of our mobile devices.  But then again, with $100 B in cash, they might reinvent something else one more time.

So there you have it. 6 predictions in an 18-24 month horizon.  If you disagree, let me know, if you agree pleas do that too.  And remember to ignore me because unlike the song I will not get closer if you do.

Enjoy.

 

 

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Bezos is On Fire

December 3, 2011 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Business, Technology 

Well, the race is on.  Finally a product that can challenge the iPad’s # 1 spot: The Kindle Fire.  But is it really?  Analyst predict the Kindle Fire to be the #2 selling tablet in the market.  But it is not a tablet – said Bezos – it is a portal to the cloud.  The main difference between the iPad and the Kindle Fire is the business model.  Yes, my loyal reader (singular) let me explain:

Apple’s business is simple.  Make a kick ass product for $x and sell it for $x+y.  They make money by making cheap things (yes, I said cheap things referring to Apple) and selling them for more.  iTunes is only a way to keep you from buying something else.  Amazon’s business model is making a good product (sorry Jeff, the iPad has you beat) for $x and selling it for $x or even a little less.  They will make money selling you content, you know, books, apps, movies, music, etc. I know what you’re thinking: “so does Apple, have you heard of iTunes?”  hmmm, let’s see.

Apple reported Fiscal 2011 revenue of roughly $108B and a net income of $26B.  This was made of $21B in Mac sales, $7B in iPod sales, a mind boggling $47B in iPhones, $20B in Ipads, $2.3B in peripherals, and a meager (for Apple standards) $6B in iTunes.  On the other hand, Amazon who reported its third quarter a week later has sold $30B in the first 9 months, almost $12 of them in what they call “media”.  In percentage, 6% of Apple’s revenue is iTunes, whereas 40% of Amazon’s is media.  Although the numbers are not directly comparable and Amazon doesn’t distinguish digital from physical media (CDs, DVDs, Books), it is clear that Amazon’s business is heavily weighted in media, whereas Apple’s is mainly hardware, at least for now.

Another way to look at it is that Amazon’s “store front” is the Kindle in all its forms, more comparable to Apple’s stores that to the iPad itself.  Charging $200 for the Kindle Fire is like charging cover to enter an Apple store (kind of what Costco does).  So it is logical to expect that Amazon will not make money on the store front alone since it is really designed to attract customers to by its media products.

Now this is just the beginning of a new Tech rivalry, kind of when Android launched caused Apple to unfriend Google.  iCloud is a direct competitor to Amazon’s media store and Kindle Fire is kind of a competitor to the iPad.  The movie gets more intriguing with all the rumors of Amazon launching free smartphones, again as portals and Apple doubling down on iCloud in iOS5 and beyond.  How will it unfold? don’t miss 2012 – 2015, where 2 of the most revered tech companies go at it cloud to cloud.

But, my dear reader, if you accidentally stumbled upon this blog for investment advice, be forewarned that you’re not getting it.  Apple (AAPL) has$82B in cash and is trading at 14 times earnings. Amazon (AMZN) has $6.5B in cash and trades at around 103 times earnings.  You tell me where would you rather put your money?  Of course, don’t forget one of tech’s fave companies: Google (GOOG) with $42B in cash trading @ roughly 21 times earnings who is about to close the acquisition of Motorola Mobility (MMI) with one of the most impressive IP portfolios in the industry and the capability to develop state of the art hardware and kind of the “inventors” of the cloud.  In other words I’ll wait it out.   I would sell a share and a half of Apple to buy an iPad and a share of Amazon to buy a Kindle Fire and use my free Google account to access both.

The media battle, in this blogger’s humble opinion will be won outside the cloud; on a desk negotiating with media companies that are old fashion and do not understand or particularly care about technology. Better content will win and getting the right terms for the producers is what will be the key.  All 3 have done it and have done it well.  It might just come down to who executes best …

Enjoy.

 

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Googorola, a New Age in Mobility

August 20, 2011 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Business, Technology 

GoogorolaWell, it certainly has been an interesting couple of weeks in the mobility  industry.  Lawsuits galore, HP punting on the Tab (and most likely the whole Palm acquisition), Google buying Motorola Mobility (Googorola?), rumors of iPhone5 getting louder, and other rumors that Microsoft is finally going to compete in the space.  And silently, well not so silently one by one the companies that started it all are being gobbled up.  New, 21st century brands, some that can’t look at hardware if it was staring them in the eyes are taking center stage.

When there are winners, there have to be losers, even in a rapidly expanding market such as this.  Nokia, the once titan of the category, that robbed market share from the inventors of cellular telephony (Motorola), although still #1 are now falling like a rock.  Palm, who arguably  added the “smart” aspect of smart phones by creating the PIM (personal information manager) elements now ubiquitous, recently bought by HP are now defunct and their legacy, sadly, may follow.  Research in Motion, RIM, makers of the ubiquitous executive gadget of Christmas Past are down to a meager 3% and declining.  While Google and Apple, who dominate the mobile Operating System market share see no end in sight.

Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility (MMI) brings to the table the largest patent dowry available:  17000 granted patents plus more than 7000 in process, including some unimaginable radio and communication intellectual property.  This not only gives Google the ability to counter the myriad of lawsuits that make analysts weary of the future of Android, but can actually put them in the driver seat if they weren’t there already.  Unfortunately there are always downsides to every upside.  In this case its in the form of a Taiwanese and 2 Korean companies.  Yes, you guessed it: HTC, Samsung, and LG.  These 3 plus Motorola Mobility are the main adopters of Android and responsible for Google’s rise to the top OS in this category.  Together they represent roughly 25% of the market or about the size of Apple’s iOS.

The question is, my loyal reader (singular), will they pick up their marbles and go home (with a layover in Redmond, Wa)? or will they trust Google to keep MMI running independently?  Yeah right!  Just like other things in life, some win, and some lose.  The ones that win by just waiting it out, Microsoft have a  real chance to become the third horse in the race.  Mainly because they will be the only remaining independent.  But with $53B burning their balance sheet, how long can they afford to stay that way?

Enjoy.

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