Apple is among the most successful growth companies of the past ten years. However, AAPL has had a most peculiar trajectory as a growth stock. To my mind, it has barely followed any part of the typical growth stock pattern I outlined yesterday.
For one thing, the peak price earnings multiple and the peak stock price didn’t coincide from AAPL. Yes, the company did switch to a much less conservative method of accounting for iPhone profits early in that product’s life, but I don’t mean that. Even after the switch, the PE didn’t expand while the company was piling up quarter after quarter of spectacular, continually surprisingly strong, earnings performance . The multiple contracted slightly instead.
For another, it was clear by, let’s say 2012, that the smartphone market was becoming saturated. AAPL was also facing increasing competition from the Android operating system and from Samsung as a manufacturer of mobile devices. So we had to think that pretty soon the iPhone profit dynamo would begin to lose momentum.
What about another reinvention? The issue here has always been:
–Reinvention #1, the iPod, doubled the size of a small company. Reinvention #2, the iPhone, more than doubled the size of a now-large company. To repeat the same quantum leap, Reinvention #3 would have to be twice the size of the smartphone. What would that product be? Would such a product be possible? (my answer: probably not) Is such a product likely? (not likely at all)
(AAPL has had two subsequent innovations, the iPad and the iWatch. Neither has created anything like the response needed to be Reinvention #3)
In a nutshell, the elevator speech was starting to give a sell sign–based both on earnings momentum for the company as currently constituted and another possible reinvention.
Yet, the stock continued to go up, and to outperform the S&P, until about a year ago.
More on Monday.