Tuesday evening’s Apple results were beyond dramatic. The company buried a massive 18% drop in profits under an even bigger pile of cash, announcing that it will take on debt and create value for investors by increasing its stock buyback and dividend programs to return $100 billion to investors between now and 2015. The stock immediately shot up by more than 4.5% in after-hours trading, but those gains were completely wiped away when CEO Tim Cook announced that Apple doesn’t have plans to launch any exciting new products until this coming fall. Quite the roller coaster ride, indeed.
As analysts’ downgrades began to pour out on Wednesday morning, a piece penned Tuesday evening by Reuters finance blogger Felix Salmon does a terrific job of explaining exactly what’s happening. We’re now looking at a completely different stock than we were this time last year, and the new Apple is going to take some time to get used to.
“Apple is officially no longer a high-growth tech stock, valued on its monster potential,” Salmon wrote. “Instead, it has become a cash cow, valued on its ability to pump hundreds of billions of dollars into its shareholders’ pockets.”
The transition we’re currently seeing at Apple happened so fast that investors are having trouble processing it, hence Tuesday night’s roller coaster ride that continued into Wednesday morning’s pre-market session as Apple shares continued downward and were trading below $400. Again.
On the flip side of the coin, Apple CEO Tim Cook is a numbers man first — unlike late co-founder Steve Jobs, who was a geek first — so the new Apple may play right into his wheelhouse.
What was once a high-yield stock that attracted a rush of investors is now becoming a safe low-yield investment that will attract a more conservative crowd. That fundamental shift will clearly take some time to adjust to, and volatility will likely continue for some time as a result.
“Apple is trading at an astonishingly low valuation, with a p/e ratio in single digits, because it has now become that animal investors like least: a slow-growing tech stock,” Salmon wrote. “Either one is fine on its own, and both slow-growing stocks and fast-growing tech stocks can support much higher multiples than Apple is seeing right now. But conservative investors, who like slow-growing stocks with high dividends, are constitutionally uncomfortable with the volatility inherent in the tech world. And technology investors, who are happy taking that kind of risk, want to see substantial growth. Apple, notwithstanding the fact that it’s one of the most valuable companies in the world, is falling through the capital-markets cracks.”