Explaining Southern California's economy

Could Apple actually pay shareholders?

Apple's New iPhone 4s Goes On Sale

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Apple Store customers look at the new Apple iPhone 4Gs on October 14, 2011 in San Francisco, United States. The new iPhone 4Gs features a faster dual-core A5 chip, an 8MP camera that shoots 1080p HD video, and a voice assistant program.

The bigger Apple gets, the more pressure it comes under to share some of the wealth. With a cash pile now approaching $100 billion, the idea of a one-time dividend is being floated. This is from Therese Poletti at MarketWatch:

“Instituting a regular dividend would be a signal of a new maturity in the way the company views itself,” [said management professor James] Post.... “That would be a much bigger statement of change for the company. I think there is probably a debate going on.” And the ghosts of CEOs past are clearly in the room.

Post said a special dividend could be an interim solution for the company. “If they want to they can always come back in a year or two or three, they can do it again, but they are not committing themselves to a regular dividend,” he said. “It would be seen as a pretty big departure from the Jobs era.” It’s a tactic used by Microsoft in 2004, when it announced a one-time dividend of $3 a share, to use return some cash to investors.

A one-time dividend is obviously not very popular among most investors.

“I think that Apple’s stock is and should be like Apple’s sales and products, insanely great,” said individual shareholder King Lear, who spoke up at the company’s annual meeting last year. “Defined quarterly dividends would increase the value of the stock in addition to its incredible capital growth.”

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Lucky or unlucky Dow 13,000?

Dow Jones Industrial Average Closes Slightly Down

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U.S. stock markets have been rallying since October. Time to get worried?

The Dow Jones Industrial Average has been bumping along at or just below 13,000 for a few trading days now. As the Wall Street Journal points out, the Dow is up 22 percent since October, an impressive rally given that the economic news, while improving, isn't that good.

So what does it all mean? Well, you could argue for extreme caution at this point. Because the risk-craving money has probably already come into the markets, earning its double-digit returns, it's going to start looking for a way out. Enter the "dumb money," otherwise known as the retail investor. Some analysts think the dumb money has already showed up and is keeping the market elevated.

Regardless, the tail end of a rally can be hard on unseasoned investors. They may panic if they bought high and suddenly see their holdings turn lower as the pros rush back to cash, preparing for the next sustained rally. 

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The app economy: Jobs boom...or bubble?

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DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images

Are apps where the jobs are? Maybe not.

A couple of people called my attention to this report from TechNet, on the apparent jobs boom in the so-called "app economy." Here's Slate's Matt Yglesias, who considers it a positive trend — with a future:

[TechNet economist Michael Mandel's] basic point is an extremely sound one. As I've argued before, doing the same old thing but doing it with a smartphone ap is a huge part of the future of innovation in America. A little processor power plus constant internet connectivity plus location services plus a camera has incredibly broad applications for all kinds of everyday service delivery and this, rather than building devices, is where the big economic impact comes in. 

Apple might disagree with this, given its recent, iPhone-fueled financial results. You could certainly argue that there was no app economy — and none of the 466,000 jobs created by it since 2007, according to TechNet — without the Apple App Store. Which came first? The App platform, in the iPhone. Build it and they will come.

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The secret of the Apple iPhone's success: Profits!

New Apple CEO Tim Cook Introduces iPhone 4s

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

CUPERTINO, CA - OCTOBER 04: Apple's Senior Vice President of iOS Scott Forstall speaks about the new voice recognition app called Siri at the event introducing the new iPhone 4s at the company's headquarters October 4, 2011 in Cupertino, California. The announcement marks the first time new CEO Tim Cook introduced a new product since Apple co-founder Steve Jobs resigned in August. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Apple just flat-out killed it last quarter, largely on the strength of iPhone sales. Most analysts, technological and financial, now readily agree that Apple reinvented the smartphone business with the iPhone by putting a computer in your pocket. What's perhaps less apparent is that Apple also reinvented the business model for mobile communications. That's why this headline from CNET provokes a double-take: "iPhone Soaks Up 75 Percent of All Mobile Phone Profits."

What?!?! Three quarters of all profits available in the mobile space go to Cupertino? That's remarkable. Here's CNET:

Though it holds only around 9 percent of the global mobile phone market, Apple raked in 75 percent of all profits across the industry last quarter, according to Asymco analyst Horace Dediu.

That left rival Samsung with 16 percent of the profit pie, RIM with 3.7 percent, HTC with 3 percent, and Nokia rounding out the list of 1.8 percent. All together that pie represents around $15 billion in profits for the final quarter of 2011.

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Facebook IPO: It's all about the advertising

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Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during a news conference at Facebook headquarters on October 6, 2010 in Palo Alto, California.

This information is all over the place, but I got it from the Globe and Mail:

Facebook generated about $4.3-billion in revenue last year, according to estimates from the research firm eMarketer, with advertising accounting for nearly 90 per cent of that amount. This year, the company should post revenue of nearly $6-billion, eMarketer forecasts.

And one assumes that 90 percent of that $6 billion will also come from advertising. And when Facebook makes $100 billion, many years after its IPO, 90 percent of that will come from advertising.

Does that sound like putting too many eggs in one basket? Maybe. Except that Google is putting more in one basket. It made $37.9 billion 2011 — and 96 percent of that was advertising!

This week, Facebook is expected to file with the Securities and Exchange Commission, for an IPO later this year. So everyone will finally get a look behind the curtain of how the business is run, financed — and where the revenues really come from. But let's be honest. It's all going to depend on advertising, advertising, advertising. This could be a problem for Facebook's long-term growth and profitability because Facebook might have already signed up just about everyone it can. That's a huge audience — and that audience spends LOTS of time on Facebook — but they're not on Facebook for the same reasons they're on Google.

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