The “Heard on the Street” column of today’s Wall Street Journal talks about the purchase commitment Verizon Wireless had to make to Apple in order to be able to offer the iPhone on its network.
a footnote in the Vodafone financial statements
The information comes from newly-formed Moffett Research LLC, a venture headed by Craig Moffett, the truly excellent (former) telecoms analyst at Bernstein. Mr. Moffett points to a footnote in the financial statements of Vodafone plc, a Verizon Wireless co-owner, that implies Verizon Wireless has committed to buy a minimum of $44.7 billion worth of iPhones during 2011-2013. The company spent only $18.5 billion on iPhones through the end of last year, however, and still had $2 billion worth (Mr. Moffett’s number) in inventory.
That leaves $26.2 billion worth of iPhones to be bought this year (my arithmetic–HotS says the shortfall is $23.5 billion).
I find three aspects of this story interesting:
1. Neither Verizon Wireless nor Verizon disclose this information. It took a sharp-eyed telecom specialist combing through the back pages of a UK company’s financials to spot the figures and realize their significance.
This example illustrates what security analysts do for a living, as well as the depth of information that traditionally has been at the fingertips of any professional investor who does business with the major brokerage firms who employ these analysts and furnish their research to customers. In other words, no matter how dull-witted the pro and how smart we as individual investors are, the pro has a huge information advantage starting out.
2. Mr. Moffett started up his new firm two months ago. It may be that he’s decided he can make more money as an independent than as an employee of Bernstein. More likely, if past Wall Street form follows true, is that Bernstein has started to dismantle its high-powered equity research effort. Why do so? Wall Street believes that research is a money losing business.
3. What happens if/when Verizon Wireless falls short of its $44.7 billion purchase commitment?
HotS doesn’t say.
Using (very) round numbers, the shortfall will likely be $10 billion or so. In contracts of this type that I’m familiar with, Verizon Wireless would have to pay that amount to Apple shortly after the end of the year. Verizon Wireless would, however, get a credit against future purchases of a gradually declining percentage of the shortfall payment.
Given the popularity of the competing Samsung Galaxy phone line, I imagine the shortfall payment will be a prominent element in negotiations over supply arrangements in 2014.
On another note, I wonder how Apple and Verizon have been accounting for the minimum purchase contract. HotS says the minimums for 2011-13 are: $13.7 billion, $14 billion, $17 billion, respectively. The actual purchases have been $8.4 billion and $10.2 billion in 2011 and 2012.
Both firms are most likely using the actuals, not the contracted minimum amounts. Might be a little awkward for Apple, though, if it isn’t.