Tag Archives: Apple

The “Watch Series” (5): Smart Watches vs. mechanical Swiss Watches (and Fitness trackers)

Management summary
In the short term, I don’t think that the Apple Watch is a big danger for Premium Swiss Watch brands. Why ?
– putting some gold on a mass-produced electronic gadget didn’t work for smart phones either
– the smart watch doesn’t have a killer app yet and we don’t see an overall smart watch boom
– the observed decline in Swiss watch exports seems to be mostly caused by overall weakness in Hong kong and Macau
– however lower or medium priced brands could be affected especially in the coming Christmas season

The short-term danger to Premium Watches is much more a further cooling of Chinese and Emerging Market demand. Mid to long-term there could be issues as the market seems to be in the early stages of significant technical changes

Before I jump into more details I have to make a confession: I am myself not an expert on watches. As a matter of fact, I haven’t worn a wrist watch for the last 25 years.
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Apple and the value of paying a dividend

Yesterday, the most important news was the fact that Apple announced to start paying a dividend and additionallyto buy back shares in an amount of up to 10 bn USD.

Contrary to many news stories, the announced dividend plus the share repurchase program will not lower the 100 bn USD cash pile as the free cash flow of Apple is currently way above the amounts they plan to distribute.

Nevertheless the Apple shares gained above the market gains yesterday, so the news was received positive by investors (good collection of stories here at Abormal Returns)

Let’s have a quick look at the theory of how to value such annoncements in general.

Efficient market

In a truly efficient market, a decision to distribute a dividend would not matter at all. Every investor would value the company purely based on free cashflows at company level, adjust correctly for any retained cash on the balance sheet and being indifferent if the money is distributed or not.

Potential positive impacts:

In many articles about the Apple price move, commentators mentioned the following reasons why paying (or increasing) a dividend should be positive for shareholders

a) Management shows more confidence in future cash flow generation
b) Management has less money to spend on (stupid) acquisitions, especially for former high growth companies (see e.g. HP)
c) Investors have a preference for current income
d) Unadjusted P/Es go down for cash rich companies, which then leads to a further increase in stock prices

Negative impacts

e) Dividends get taxed at the level of the shareholder
f) management has run out of growth options, paying a dividend signals “peak growth”

In the conference call, Tim Cook started the call with emphasizing the potential growth opportunities of Apple, clearly targeting point f) in the list above.

Personally, I think with especially with Apple c) and d) does not apply either. No one is buying Apple now because of the dividend and everyone knows the amount of the cash pile. I think argument b) could have some merit, especially when you look at HP when Leo Apotheker took over and directly overspent on an acquisition.

However, as I do not own Apple and don’t want to buy or short it for the time being either, I wanted to focus on some general aspects of dividend payouts.

Well managed companies (Compounders, steady growers)

For a well managed company with significant growth opportunities which is managed on a long term basis, I couldn’t care less about dividend payouts. Soo in my opnion, for really well managed companies with growth potential, the “efficient market” thesis holds

Indebted companies

Companies, which are for some reasons relatively heavily indebted but have a solid business model, should in most cases not start to pay dividends before they have significantly reduced their debt burden. Paying back debt and reducing cost of capital can be in many cases much more value enhancing than starting to pay dividends too early. So in suchh cases, an increase in dividend could be a bad sign.

Badly managed but cheap companies

Here the case is clear: As long as the cash stays on the balance sheet of a badly managed company, there is always the risk that the cash could dissapear any time, either through stupid acquisitions, over-investment or even fraud (Chinese RTOs anyone ?). In such cases, the announcement to pay significant dividends out of retained cash would definitely be value enhancing by reducing implicit risk.

Declining companies

The best documented example of a declining company is WB’s very own Berkshire Hathaway. This was the classic case of a company which would have kept investing in its declining business until they would have been bankrupt. In such cases, the commitment of paying out or maintaining large dividends instead of reinvesting is definitely a plus.

Announcement of Dividends vs. buy backs

In my very simple view, the announcement of a dividend and a stock buy back are very different. Whereas for the dividends, any non-payment would be highly difficult, buy backs often get announced but only partially executed. Additionally, a buy back is always a one time item whereas a dividend implcitly assumes a certain continuity in payments. So I would put much more weight on dividend announcements than stock buy back announcements.

In some case, one will really have to look deeply into companies to judge if a dividend announcement is positive or not. For instance if a higly indebted shrinking company increases its divdends, is this good or bad ? Or if a highly indebted company shrinking stops paying dividends to pay off debt, what is the net result of this ?

Nevertheless I want to summarize the impact of dividend and stock buy back announcements as follows:

Announcements of increased dividends and/or stock buy backys are most value enhancing for

+ badly managed companies with high a cash pile
+ shrinking companies with high free cash flows and a relatively low debt burden

For well managed and growing company, such announcements should not impact the value significantly.

Especially if analyzing “cheap” and “contrarian” companies, one could use the payout ratio also as an indicator for the required return on capital. A higher payout ratio should lead to a lower required ROC and vice versa.

Nintendo Co. – from “Moat Superstar” to Net-Net ?

There was an interesting article in Business Week about Nintendo, which is expected to book its first lost since a long long time.

One of the quotes were:

It’s hard to say whether Nintendo can regain its footing, says Melissa Otto, director of active equity at TIAA-CREF, the manager of retirement accounts for employees of nonprofit institutions. The company’s stock has fallen so far—shares reached a 52-week low on Jan. 27—that it’s approaching the company’s cash value, she says. “They have a fantastic track record,” Otto says. “They have a wonderful brand. But the question is: Does the consumer care now?”

A quick look into the balance sheet shows:

The company currently trades close to book value (P/B 1.2). Net current assets are only slightly lower, no goodwill, no financial debt.

Cash and marketable securities were around 6000 Yen per share per end of year 2011. There seems to have been a certain cash burn in the first 9 months of FY 2011, this is somthing to watch. However this could also be an FX conversion effect if the cash was held for instance in EUR.

Interestingly for the 9 Month 2011, tha largest part of the announced losses were currency losses.

The stock chart in YEN looks quite bad, we are back at 1989 levels:

Shareholders:

The shares shares are widely held, no dominating shareholder. 10% are treasury shares. I wonder wether this would be a nice target for some shareholder activism….

Analyst sentiment is bad (which is good).

For the time being, I have no idea how to value Nintendo, but it is definitely something to watch. The “Intangible” value of the game franchises (Mario, Pokemon etc.) could be huge, however there are many well known headwinds like Mobile phone games etc.

If Nintendo again manages to reinvent itself like they did with the WII, then the upside could be huge. If they fail, at least they will not go bankrupt any time soon.

In any case, Nintendo is an interesting example how a “Moat” or “Gillette Razorblade” business model can dissappear through technological change pretty quickly, at least in the consumer electronics area. So watch out Apple.