If you've been riding along with me for any length of time, you know I get really revved up whenever I talk about the "Mobile Wave" in technology.
The truth is, I can't help it: I look at the forecasts, calculate all the money that can be made, and end up feeling as jazzed as can be about the windfall profits we can reap from this transformational trend.
And I'm not the only one who's feeling this technology-fueled ebullience: The folks over at Amazon.com are clearly experiencing the same adrenalin-driven affliction.
Amazon, you see, is coming out with its own smartphone.
And not just any smartphone. Amazon's entry into smartphone derby is going to be one cool mobile device - highlighted by a 3D screen that will display photos so realistically that you'll want to just reach out and touch them.
Why in the world, you might ask, is an "e-tailer" entering the wireless-phone business?
Just look at the numbers.
Is Apple's "Next Big Thing" Vaporware?
In Silicon Valley, there's a term for products that a company makes bold statements about and always seem on the cusp of launching but never quite materialize - vaporware.
And believe me, over the decades there have been more vaporware companies than real ones.
What's more, it's not uncommon for once-respected names to become vaporware makers over time.
One of the big questions now is, with the death of visionary Steve Jobs, the growing Android base, and the next generation in smartphones, is the "Next Big Thing" for Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) nothing more than vaporware?
For investors slammed by the stock's 39% decline from its 2012 high, the question is hardly rhetorical.
Today, I'm going to explore what's in store for the whales of the tech space and tell you where I stand on whether their visions will be actualized or vaporized.
Apple Bond Offering is Proof It'll Do Anything to Avoid Taxes
The record $17 billion Apple bond offering this week will do more than just placate shareholders eager to get some benefit from the company's $144.7 billion in cash.
It will help Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) avoid paying taxes, a feat that the Cupertino, CA tech giant has elevated to a high art.
The company has kept the bulk of its cash - some $102 billion - in overseas accounts to avoid paying the 35% corporate tax rate here in the United States.
Borrowing money to fund its plans for dividend increases and stock buybacks allows Apple to reward its shareholders without repatriating those foreign profits and paying U.S. taxes.
Better yet, the interest Apple will pay out in its bonds is tax deductible, which will reduce the company's tax bill even more.
It's all so elegantly devious - and perfectly legal.
Apple Stock May Not Climb, But Will Still Reward Investors
There was really only one good thing for Apple stock investors in yesterday's (Tuesday's) earnings report.
Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) announced an unprecedented share buyback program and boosted its dividend in attempts to pacify edgy investors who have watched the company's stock tumble about 34% over the past six months.
The iPhone maker will return $100 billion of cash to shareholders by 2015, through an increased dividend and $60 billion share buyback program. Apple's quarterly dividend was sweetened 15% to $3.05 a share. The stock now carries a juicy 3% yield. The new dividend is payable on May 16 to shareholders of record May 13.
With an annual payment of some $11 billion, Apple becomes the biggest dividend payer in corporate America, taking the crown from Exxon Mobil Corp (NYSE: XOM).
Apple Stock is Up After Earnings – But Are Gains Here to Stay?
Apple stock was up 5% in after-hours trading Tuesday when its earnings report turned out to be better than expected - but, not great.
Everyone was bracing for the worst when Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) released second-quarter earnings Tuesday after the close. The big question was just how bad things were going to be.
The answer turned out to be... not so awful. The iPhone maker surprised Wall Street with better than expected numbers, mostly because expectations were so low.
However, as expected, forward guidance was glum.
Apple Stock Rises Before Earnings, but No One's Expecting Good Numbers
Apple stock was up nearly 2% by noon today (Tuesday) - but this could be the end of gains for a while depending on what happens this afternoon.
Undeniably the most anticipated earnings report of the season is the Apple earnings report, due out after the close Tuesday. Expectations are for a downright dismal quarter.
Among the issues Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) is expected to address include:
- iPhones: Apple generated some $22.7 billion from the sale of 35 million iPhones in the same quarter a year ago. Investors will want to hear how much competition from other smartphone markers, like Samsung, has chipped away at those numbers.
- iPads: Apple sold 11.8 million iPads that generated $6.6 billion in sales over the same period a year earlier. With the bevy of new and cheaper tablets now on the market, it is unlikely Apple has been able to maintain those robust sales.
- Gross Margins: Gross margins peaked at an astounding 47.4% during this quarter last year. Apple's warning last October that margins could drop as low as 38% was the catalyst behind the stock's steep plunge. In January, Apple said profits should come in around 37.5% to 38.5%. These numbers are crucial.
- Revenue and Profit: Last year, Apple earned $12.30 a share on revenue of $39.2 billion. Estimates are for $10.12 a share on revenue of $42.6 billion. Even the slightest miss could wallop shares.
- Guidance: Most importantly will be what the company says about future quarters. Analysts expect Apple to guide lower, at least for the next couple of quarters.
Of particular interest will be what Apple plans to do with its hefty $157 billion cash stash. A special or increased dividend and a bigger share buyback could provide a temporary boost to the stock. But any gains are likely to be short lived.
"People have to be patient. The next quarter will be disastrous and the quarter after that stock will only go in one direction and that is down," Trip Chowdhry, co-founder of Global Equities Research told CNBC.
Apple: Cash or Trash?
With Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) off nearly 50% from its $705.07 a share high set last September, many investors want to know if it's a buy.
Not in my book. Here's why:
1. The company has held on to its premium pricing strategy for too long. Going out on price as it has recently with iPhones, for example, is the death knell of competitive differentiation. Businesses that engage in price wars have a very difficult time climbing back up the proverbial ladder.
2. The present management team is having trouble fulfilling the late Steve Jobs' vision, and execution appears to be stumbling. The Maps thing, for instance, was an unmitigated disaster and shattered Apple's image of invincibility. The public noticed.
An Apple Stock Dividend Hike Could Help Set Cash Hoards Free
If Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) actually does what many now expect - raise the Apple stock dividend as much as 56% - it could help inspire a trend of givebacks by other cash-rich companies.
Looking at the company's cash hoard of $137 billion - which could reach $170 billion by year's end - a survey of analysts conducted by Bloomberg News this week concluded that an Apple stock dividend hike of $4.14 a share is a likely possibility.
That would raise the stock's yield from about 2.40% now to a much more attractive 3.6% -
higher than 84% of the other dividend-paying companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 Index.
An increase in the Apple stock dividend would almost certainly boost the stock price, which is down about 35% from its Sept. 19 high of $702.10.
"The accumulation of cash has become excessive," Brian White, an analyst at New York-based Topeka Capital Markets Inc., told Bloomberg. "It doesn't matter which bearish scenario you forecast, they're never going to need this much cash."
Dumping Apple Stock for Google: How Investors Could Get Burned
The trend has some wondering if investors are consciously moving their money from one tech giant to the other.
"There's a lot of money that likes the tech sector, and I think Google has kind of taken over from Apple," Eric Kuby, chief investment officer at North Star Investment Management, told Reuters.
Looking at the charts, it's clear that Google stock is now enjoying the kind of momentum that Apple had for years, while sentiment toward AAPL almost couldn't get any more bearish.
Since Apple stock hit its all-time high of $705.07 in September, it has plunged 40% and lost more than $260 billion in market capitalization. AAPL is down more than 20% year to date.
Google hit several new highs recently, and poked briefly above $840 in early trading Wednesday. Google stock is up 48% from its mid-June low last year, and up 17.5% so far this year.
And at least two analysts recently put a $1,000 price target on GOOG, reminiscent of last year when analysts were rushing to put a $1,000 price target on Apple.
"The bulls are in Google's camp, and the bears are in Apple's camp at the moment," Neil Mawston, the executive director of Strategy Analytics, told CNBC.com, which speculated that Google could be replacing Apple as the dominant tech giant, as Apple supplanted Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) in the past decade.
But any Apple investors who haven't already dumped shares in favor of jumping on the Google stock bandwagon might want to think twice before doing so now.
What Should Apple Do with its $137 Billion Stockpile of Cash?
Apple Inc.'s (Nasdaq: AAPL) been in the news a lot of late as its stock plunged. Meanwhile, the company sits on a cash pile of $137 billion.
When Apple stock was soaring, investors were happy. But since its stock value plunged some 35% since September, many investors have suggested Apple should share some of itsaccumulated wealth. Fund manager and investor David Einhorn went so far as to sue the company to try to force it to share more of its cash with shareholders.
Money Morning Chief Investment Strategist Keith Fitz-Gerald was asked on FOX Business what Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) should do with its stockpile of money: Should the company pay dividends to shareholders, pursue major acquisitions or just keep its large cash position for future investments or other costs?
Check out what Fitz-Gerald and other panelists said on the FOX Business report in this accompanying video.