WEEKLY ISSUE: Investment themes changing the diamond industry, Apple’s WWDC 2018 and more

WEEKLY ISSUE: Investment themes changing the diamond industry, Apple’s WWDC 2018 and more

  • Following Apple’s WWDC 2018 keynote presentation, we are boosting or price target on Apple (AAPL) shares to $210 from $200.
  • As MGM Resorts (MGM) avoids Las Vegas strike disruptions, our price target remains $39
  • Paccar (PCAR) shares catch an upgrade; our price target remains $85
  • We are adding shares of Charles & Covard (CTHR) to the Tematica Investing Contender List as part of our Affordable Luxury investing theme.

As the market gets ready for the upcoming trade summit, we are seeing trade tensions heat up ahead of that date. We’ve also got a new government in Italy, and while the recent economic data has been positive, I’m seeing increasing signs of inflation in the system. To me, that looks likely to lead the Fed to the increasingly expected four interest rate hikes this year.

I suspect all of the issues discussed above — trade, interest rates and other geopolitical tensions — will be recurring ones that will likely lead to an ebb and flow of uncertainty in the market, ultimately keeping it rangebound in the near-term. In that type of environment, I’ll continue to look for new opportunities utilizing our thematic approach to investing. As compelling situations are uncovered, we’ll look to be opportunistic.

With a number of things to get to, including how the diamond industry is beginning to pivot in response to some of our thematic tailwinds, I’ll cut it there for this week…

 

Apple’s WWDC 2018 was far from boring

Earlier this week, following Apple’s (AAPL) World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) 2018 that focused on the company’s various software platforms the shares hit a multi-year high at $193.42 before settling modestly lower. I’ve been waiting in the wings to bump our price target on this Connected Society company higher and following this week’s keynote that introduced the software updates that consumers will have access to later this year, I am boosting that target to $210 from $200.

The expectation coming into the event was Apple would focus on software refinements and performance. While that was the case, there were a number of new features that in our view did more than that.

Now let’s discuss some of the announcements…

Apple got to it early on with iOS, taking the wraps of iOS 12 that will power both past and present iPhone and iPad models. While the initial conversation was on performance improvements, Apple soon ticked off a number of features including more robust Augment Reality capabilities, including multiplayer gaming; deeper integration of its digital assistant Siri in the OS and with third party apps; overhauled News, Stocks, Voice Memo and iBooks apps; new features for iMessage, including Memoji; and at long last group Facetime. There was some thought Apple would also introduce more robust controls to limit usage, and it does so with updates to its Do Not Disturb and Notifications capabilities, but also introduced Screen Time that should help people as well as parents restrict usage time on iOS devices.

Next up was watchOS, which continued its focus on connectivity and activity as it debuted Walkie Talkie mode that allows people to quickly communicate with each other. The iOS improvements with Siri are also finding their way to Apple Watch as is a new Podcast app. Apple also shared later this year it will debut Student ID support with both iOS and watchOS. Student ID will allow students to gain access from dorms and dining halls to gyms and libraries, along with campus events or attending class, making purchases from campus retail shops and bookstores, and paying for laundry and items from vending machines. Apple expects to roll this out with a handful of universities and expand it over time.

Turning to the OS that powers Apple TV, better known as tvOS, it gains support for Dolby Atmos surround sound, as well as a streamlined sign-in protocol for cable providers.

As for macOS, the upcoming version dubbed Mojave, will have  all new features like a dedicated Dark Mode, an all-new App Store, tweaks to the desktop, and the migration of several iOS apps. That migration for News, Stocks, Voice Memo and Home is part of a longer-term initiative to port iOS apps to mac OS, and Apple expects developers will be able to transition their apps to Mac sometime in 2019. Finally, in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, Apple emphasized privacy, with a new Safari feature that preemptively blocks tracking sites like Facebook’s Like and Comment feature and asks you to allow it to appear when you’re browsing a website.

While developers will have access to these new OS iterations shortly, consumers will not until sometime this Fall. Historically, Apple has formally released these platforms shortly after it debuts its new hardware.

Are these updates ho-hum?

Not at all in my opinion. While they could be seen a quieter updates, they bring features and functionality that will spur usage as Apple once again does what it has done in years past – used its software and design expertise to remove friction for consumers. Odds are these features will help spur users of older Apple devices to upgrade later this year, but I continue to see a far larger iPhone upgrade cycle coming once 5G networks go mainstream.

Factor in Apple’s dividend and share repurchase plans, and what some may call boring still looks pretty exciting to me.

  • Following Apple’s WWDC 2018 keynote presentation, we are boosting or price target on Apple (AAPL) shares to $210 from $200.

 

MGM avoids the Las Vegas strike

Last week, I discussed the pending union strike for casino hotel workers on the Las Vegas Strip and how we would be assessing its potential impact for MGM Resorts (MGM). Over the weekend, the company has reportedly reached a new tentative 5-year contract that covers approximately 24,000 workers at 10 casino resorts on the Las Vegas Strip. We’ll continue to monitor the situation and assess any potential impact but, in my view, this tentative agreement is a step in the right direction and could lead to a modest boost to MGM’s properties as its competitors contend with the strike.

  • Our price target on MGM Resorts (MGM) shares remains $39

 

Paccar shares catch an upgrade

Yesterday shares of heavy-duty and medium duty truck company Paccar (PCAR) caught an upgrade to an Outperform rating from Neutral at investment firm Macquarie complete with a $75 target. That upgrade came on the news that May preliminary net orders of heavy trucks (Class 8) in North America were 35,600 units, up 110% year-on-year and up 2.5% vs April.

Despite the swelling order book for heavy and medium duty trucks that reflects the current shortage that is driving freight costs higher, Macquarie is one of the few to turn bullish on Paccar shares. Candidly, given the year over year strength in new truck orders we’re surprised that more haven’t turned positive on the shares.

I’ll look for further confirmation in the soon to be published May Cass Freight Index data. That data for April showed a 10% year over year increase in freight shipments, which in our view served to signal the domestic economy was firming. As more data is had that points to the improving outlook for new truck demand, I expect others will jump on board, boosting their ratings and price targets along the way.

You know what they say when it comes to situations like this – better to be early than late.

  • Our price target on Paccar (PCAR) shares remains $85;

 

Examining a lab grown diamond company as De Beers adjusts its business model

Last week I posted a Thematic Signal that discussed legendary diamond firm De Beers having to pivot its business as it contends with the reality that is our Cash-strapped Consumer investing theme. As I’ve said for some time, these thematic tailwinds and headwinds lead to a change in behavior at consumers and businesses that companies must respond to it they want to survive and thrive. If not, they run the risk of being dead on the vine. If consumers aren’t buying diamonds because they can’t afford them, then the exiting business model at De Beers has to change. Simple. As. That.

In this case De Beers has launched a new line of synthetic diamonds that are a fraction of the price for natural diamonds. Prices for the synthetic diamonds will start at $200 for a quarter carat and increase to $800 for a full carat stone. The company’s natural stones start at roughly 10 times that amount, depending on their clarity and other attributes. We see this move at this price point as part of De Beers’ attempt to capture incremental business associated with our Affordable Luxury investing theme.

With De Beers embracing synthetic diamonds, odds are the flood gates will soon open up with others doing the same. To me, this sounds like a new market opportunity for Charles & Covard (CTHR), the original creator and leading source of Forever One™, Forever Brilliant® and Forever Classic™ moissanite gemstones for fine jewelry. Charles & Covard’s gemstones are based on a patented a thermal growing process for creating pure silicon carbide (SiC) crystals in a controlled laboratory environment that enables lab created grown moissanite gemstones. As the company has positioned its wears, they are free from environmental and ethical issues, and capable of disrupting traditional definitions of fine jewelry.

As background, the global jewelry market is estimated by McKinsey & Company to be $257 billion in size. Like many other industries the move to digital sales is also resulting in a shift in where consumers are buying jewelry. Per McKinsey, by 2020 the global online fashion jewelry market is expected to drive $45 billion in sales, roughly 15% of the global jewelry market, with the global online fine jewelry hitting $30 billion of the global jewelry market. By comparison, estimates put the lab-created gemstone market near $8 billion by 2020 with the largest geographic market being Asia-Pacific followed by North America.

Charles & Covard, which derives more than 90% of its revenue from the domestic market, sells loose moissanite jewels and finished jewelry through two operating segments:

  • Online Channels (38% of sales) which is comprised of the company’s charlesandcolvard.com website, e-commerce outlets, including marketplaces such as Amazon (AMZN) and eBay (EBAY), and drop-ship customers, such as Overstock.com (OSTK), and other pure-play, exclusively e-commerce customers, such as Gemvara;
  • Traditional segment (62% of revenue), which consists of wholesale, retail, and television customers such as Helzberg Diamonds, Rio Grande, Stuller, and Boscov’s.

Only one analyst formally covers CTHR shares with a $2.50 price target, but there are no consensus expectations for EPS let alone revenue. Revenue for Charles & Covard has remained in the $25-$29 million bandwith over the last five years, and annualizing the company’s March quarter results suggests revenue near $27 million this year with EPS of roughly -$0.12.

There is some issue with that, which centers on the inherent seasonality within the company’s business that reflects the year-end holidays and gift giving. Odds are that means the company’s top and bottom line could be ahead of those figures.

Now here is where it gets a little cloudy. While forecasts suggest there are robust growth prospects ahead for laboratory created diamonds and other jewels, which could equate to a significant tipping point for Charles & Covard should reality match those forecasts, the company is facing a potential supplier issue.

Its sole supplier of SiC crystals is Cree (CREE) and Charles & Covard has a certain exclusive supply rights for SiC crystals to be used for gemstone applications. In December 2014, Charles & Covard entered into a new exclusive supply agreement with Cree that will expire on June 24, 2018, unless extended by the parties for an additional two-year period.

While the two companies boast being on good terms, the reality is Cree is a captive supplier that Charles & Covard rely on to for their products. This means watching the next few weeks for the deal terms for either a new supply agreement or ones attached to the extension as they could alter profitability expectations. Other complications include the company’s microcap status and its average daily trading volume of just 70,750 shares.

For those reasons, even though the lab grown diamond market looks to have favorable growth prospects, we’re going to keep an eye on Charles & Covard shares by putting them on the Tematica Investing Contender List.

  • We are adding shares of Charles & Covard (CTHR) to the Tematica Investing Contender List as part of our Affordable Luxury investing theme.
Comcast and Fandango enable movie ticket buying… if you are watching a TV

Comcast and Fandango enable movie ticket buying… if you are watching a TV

One of the strategies behind getting consumers to adopt alternative payments is to reduce if not remove friction to the transaction as well as make it easy peasy for the consumer to use. In the case of Comcast teaming with Fandango to enable the buying of movie tickets through the television, it’s pretty cool but it’s a remidner that Comcast is still tied to the set top box in what is increasingly a cut the chord and mobile device world in our increasingly Connected Society.

A smart move for Comcast and a positive one for Fandango that brings greater functionality to a shrinking audience. Trailer watchers have been able to do this with Apple TV for some time, and it’s a snap to order tickets through the Fandango app on one’s smartphone or tablet as it has the option to maintain one’s credit card on file.

I’ll be curious to see how quickly Comcast expands this shopping capability – not to other movies, but to other apps much the way Apple has with a number of apps found in the Apple TV store. The revenue split may be crumbs, but they tend to be high margin ones. The difference is Apple’s iOS and tvOS power multiple devices enabling consumers to view and shop where they want, when they want. Comast, not so much.

 

Comcast’s Xfinity unit and Fandango announced Wednesday (May 30) that they are giving movie fans the ability to find local show times and movie tickets via their television, thanks to an integration between the two.

In a press release, Comcast said that with Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment’s “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” Xfinity X1 customers can say “Get tickets” into their X1 voice remote while watching the movie trailer to search more than 30,000 U.S. movie theaters. Comcast said this is the first time this capability is available on a set-top box.

The companies expect to extend this feature to additional new releases throughout the year.

X1 customers who watch the latest “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” trailer on Xfinity On Demand will see an on-screen notification prompting them to say “Get tickets” into their voice remote to initiate the online ticket-buying process. They can then view a list of show times at nearby theaters and have the times sent to their mobile phone to complete the purchase via Fandango’s mobile app or website.

Source: Comcast, Fandango Enable TV Movie Ticket Buying | PYMNTS.com

Here’s what we’ll be watching for at today’s Apple special event

Here’s what we’ll be watching for at today’s Apple special event

Several of the Disruptive Technologies investment theme companies currently on the Tematica Select List will play a key role in the Apple Special Event scheduled for Tuesday, September 12th. In all likelihood the companies themselves will never be mentioned during the event, but with expectations once again running high ahead the next generation iPhone, here’s what we’ll be watching for as it pertains to the Tematica Select List.


 

Early this afternoon, Connected Society and smartphone reliant Apple (AAPL) will hold its next special event that is widely expected to unveil a bevy of new products, including its latest iPhone models. Much has been made over the last few days of “leaked information” over these new models as well as new iterations for Apple TV and Apple Watch, but as exciting as those other new products may be because the iPhone is the majority of Apple’s revenue and profits odds are investors will focus their attention on those new models.

While we don’t own Apple shares, and we touched on at least one of those reasons yesterday, there are several companies on the Tematica Select List that will be affected by today’s special event – Universal Display (OLED), Applied Materials (AMAT), and AXT Inc. (AXTI) as well as USA Technologies (USAT) and Nuance Communications (NUAN).

 

Universal Display (OLED) 

As subscribers should be aware, Universal Display is a Disruptive Technology investment theme company that supplies needed chemicals and intellectual property utilized in the manufacturing of organic liquid crystal displays (OLEDs). Over the last few months, there has been much talk of ramping demand in an industry that is capacity constrained as Apple begins to adopt the technology in the iPhone while other applications (other smartphone vendors, TVs, wearables and automotive interior lighting) continue to replace existing lighting and displays with OLEDs. There are now indications that Apple is likely to introduce OLEDs in its new premium iPhone, purportedly the iPhone X.

The issue, however, is that it is being reported that the manufacturing of iPhone X device is currently capped at around 10,000 units per day and may not begin shipping until next month. This could be due OLEDs supply constraints, but if this speculation over the iPhone X turns out to be true, we could see a pullback in our OLED shares, especially following the more than 18% move in the last month alone that has the shares bumping up against our $135 price target. We continue to think that as the adoption of OLEDs continues to ramp up, we will see a step-function higher in our price target for Universal Display shares, but in the near-term, our concern is that rapid climb in the share price could hit a “buy the rumor, sell the news” wall following Apple’s event. If such an outcome occurs, our view is subscribers should continue to hold OLED shares for the long-term. If the shares retreated to the $110-$115 level, which would be a sharp pullback, we would view that as another bite at the apple for subscribers that have so far held off buying OLED shares.

  • Our price target on Universal Display (OLED) shares remains $135
  • For now, subscribers that have missed out on OLED shares should look to scoop them up between $110-$115.

 

Applied Materials (OLED) 

If the supposition that Apple’s iPhone X production is capped because of capacity constraints for OLEDs, we see that being a resounding positive for shares of Disruptive Technology company Applied Materials (AMAT). As a reminder, Applied not only manufactures semiconductor capital equipment (the machines that make chips) it does the same for displays, including OLEDs. Applied has been rather frank about the robust demand for OLEDs, and it remains one of the reasons we are bullish on AMAT shares. Others include rising memory demand as well as ramping in-country semiconductor capacity in China.

  • Our price target on Applied Materials (AMAT) shares remains $55.

 

AXT Inc. (AXTI)

We would be surprised to hear Apple talk about 5G wireless technology, which would require several additional layers of RF semiconductors, largely because most wireless carriers like AT&T (T), Verizon (VZ) and T-Mobile USA (TMUS) are still testing the technology. If, however, the Apple Watch is updated to include LTE wireless technology, that would be a source of new demand for RF semiconductors, like those from Skyworks Solutions (SWKS) and Qorvo (QRVO). In turn, that means those companies, as well as other RF semiconductor suppliers of Apple’s, would require additional compound semiconductor substrates from AXT Inc. (AXTI). While we still see the eventual deployment of 5G networks that will drive incremental RF semiconductor demand as the key driver longer-term for AXT’s business, incremental demand from devices like Apple Watch is certainly welcome.

  • Our price target on AXT Inc. (AXTI) shares remains $10.50

 

USA Technologies (USAT) & Nuance Comm. (NUAN)

Finally, during today’s presentations, we’ll also be watching and listening for incremental news on USA Technologies (USAT), an Apple Pay partner, as well as Nuance Communications (NUAN). In iOS 11, Apple will continue to expand the services offered through Apple Pay, and we expect to hear at least some usage statistics from Apple CEO Tim Cook today. With Nuance, voice continues to become the new interface of choice across new applications from smart speakers to chat-bots, like those being rolled out by Google (GOOGL), Facebook (FB) and yes, Apple, and that keeps us bullish on NUAN shares.

  • Our price target on USA Technologies (USAT) shares remains $6
  • Our price target on Nuance Communications (NUAN) remains $21.

 

 

 

Why we’re nonplussed on Apple even if the iPhone X is Awesome

Why we’re nonplussed on Apple even if the iPhone X is Awesome

While we too are interested in what Apple (AAPL) will be unveiling tomorrow, we’re not in the camp that expects the company to deliver a “shock and awe” presentation as it showcases its latest and potentially greatest iPhone model. Make no mistake, Apple’s iPhone business is impressive given its market share, margins, and cash flow generation, and it’s a device that many of us, including us here at Tematica, could not live without. The issue is the iPhone appears to be an increasingly iterative one in a market that is plagued by slowing growth and reliant on the upgrade cycle.

The reality is that while Apple will likely continue to enhance the iPhone, and pick up incremental share along the way, it’s no longer the disruptive device that redefined the company and the category. Rather, given the size of the iPhone business, relative to Apple’s revenue, profits, and cash flow, it’s one that it needs to fight and keep up with product upgrades, even as it has ratcheted up its R&D spending in 2016 and 2017. When we’ve seen such activity at Apple in the past, it has often led to new products and new product categories, which keeps us hopeful for the long-term. That said, Apple isn’t the only one that is ramping its R&D spending as our Connected Society theme continues to disrupt existing business models. We’d point to Amazon (AMZN) as the innovator to watch.

 

What We Can Expect to Hear from Apple

The excitement and rumor mongering over the last few months will soon be over tomorrow, September 12, as Apple will unveil it latest iPhone model or potentially models. Also, if the internet chatter is to be believed, upgrades for its Apple TV and Apple Watch products will be on presented as well.

Recent software leaks suggest the unveiling of several iPhone models, with at least one of them including new features in the device itself — things such as Face ID and augmented reality as well as an organic light emitting diode display (OLED). Aside from the hardware, there will be a bevy of new features associated with the latest version of the iPhone operating system, iOS 11. Candidly we’re not all that sure about the “Animoji” feature that uses the 3D face sensors to create custom 3D animated emoji based on the expressions you make into the camera. Our thinking is this feature could be like steroids for the selfie market. Rather than digress, we are very excited about the productivity features inside iOS 11 and what they mean for the iPad. We’ve been beta testers of the iOS 11 on our own iPads, and the improved split screen capabilities alongside true drag and drop, at least in our view, are going to make the iPad what many hoped it would be several years ago — a perfect device for working while on the go.

As great as the new iOS and other new products are likely to be — like the purported Apple Watch with built in LTE connectivity —, the big kahuna at the event will be the iPhone, and it is expected to come along with just as big of a price tag. While there have been many headlines discussing the potential $1,000 price tag for Apple’s new high-end smartphone, let’s remember there are a variety of financing mechanisms from mobile carriers like AT&T and Verizon Communications as well as Apple’s own iPhone financing program.

Yes, some will balk at upgrading to the iPhone X because of its price or lack of a “wow-factor”, but we also know there is a cohort of consumers that see owning the latest Apple device as the latest status symbol for our Affordable Luxury investing theme. We also expect Apple will once again under-produce relative to initial demand, magically once again leading to the latest and potentially greatest iPhone being sold out. Make no mistake, we here at Tematica love all the Apple products we have, and we have plenty of them, but there is no easier way to stock out a new product than to restrict its initial supply. Of course, this only adds to the allure of being an early adopter, much the way until fairly recently spotting a pair of  Apple’s Air Pods has been akin to seeing a unicorn.

We are not surprised to see Apple potentially bringing multiple models to market as it looks to target share gains with the rising middle class in markets such as India and China as well as other more price-sensitive emerging economies. With the iPhone, likely the first internet connected device to be had by a person in these geographies, the device is a beachhead in which Apple can leverage its sticky ecosystem of products and services, in particular, its Apple Pay feature. If Apple is as successful as it has been in the U.S. and other developed markets, it’s a large opportunity for the company as well as shareholders.

The issue with Apple’s global expansion plans for the iPhone is that larger adoption of products and services takes time, and this means that if Apple is successful with these new iPhone models it will continue to be a trapped by its own success. By this we mean consumers flocking to the latest model in droves during the first six months of its release, only to see sales fade as potential buyers wait for the next new model to be had. If this cycle remains, it likely means Apple remains a seasonal business tied to the annual introduction of iPhone models… at least until it introduces either a new product category or an existing business segment delivers a new breakout product that turns the business mix on its head. Given the size of the annual iPhone business relative to the sizes of the Mac, iPad, Services and Other Products business segments, the latter is a daunting task to expect.

Perhaps the greatest risk to the new iPhone is the possibility that between Apple iOS beta software program and the annual rumor mongering, not to mention a disgruntled employee or two, much of what’s been slated to be shared for the new model has already been leaked. This could lead to a meh reception of what has been touted as a “make or break product for Apple.”  In other words, without an unexpected new, new thing to further implant Apple in our Connected Society investing theme, Apple shares could fall victim to “buy the rumor, sell the news” following tomorrow’s special event.

Facebook’s Content is King effort Watch goes live… will you watch it? 

Facebook’s Content is King effort Watch goes live… will you watch it? 

 

We’ve seen a number of companies, like Netflix (NFLX) and Amazon (AMZN) look to position themselves within our Content is King investing theme. It’s a smart strategy as that proprietary content is a competitive moat that helps reduce customer churn. With Watch, Facebook (FB) is looking to push into streaming video and vie with Alphabet’s (GOOGL) YouTube as a home for longer-form video. And Facebook is hoping to grab a bigger chunk of money from advertisers’ TV budgets, by steering users toward content with more 15-second ad-break opportunities.

It’s worth noting that in addition to smartphones and desktops, Watch is available on several connected-TV platforms: Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV and Samsung Smart TV. We like the multi-platform approach, especially since Apple TV has yet to get Amazon’s Prime Video… perhaps we’ll hear more on that on Sept. 12 at Apple’s next big event?

Starting Thursday, Facebook’s Watch feature — essentially a programming guide to episodic shows hosted on the social platform — will become broadly available to users in the U.S., after a three-week limited beta run.

The Watch guide is stocked with several hundred shows, a mélange of scripted, reality, documentary and sports content of varying lengths from both traditional media companies and individual digital creators. (Here’s a select list of shows currently in Watch or coming soon.) The new Watch tab isn’t the only way to access the series: They’re also available through Facebook’s new “Show Pages,” which provide features specifically for episodic video content.

 

Source: Facebook Launches Watch Feature, Shows in U.S.: Will Viewers Tune In? | Variety

Content is King movie studios eyeing Connected Society solutions like  Apple iTunes rentals

Content is King movie studios eyeing Connected Society solutions like  Apple iTunes rentals

 

Through our thematic lens, we see this as Content is King meeting the Connected Society, a theme that has led to much creative destruction over the last several years. With Netflix (NFLX), Amazon (AMZN) and now even Apple (AAPL) moving into proprietary content that is streamed to wherever and whenever consumers want, perhaps it’s about time the movie studios ranging from Sony (SNE) to Disney (DIS) and 21st Century Fox (FOXA) get on board. Should it come to pass, it will smack Regal Cinema (RGC), AMC (AMC) and other movie theater businesses right in the high margin snack business. We suspect the Cash-strapped Consumer is hoping for such a move to happen.

Movie studios looking to set up early-access rentals with companies like Apple and Comcast may reportedly push ahead with those negotiations and skip revenue sharing with theater chains, if the latter don’t reduce their demands.Early-access rentals would let people stream movies through services like iTunes just weeks after their premieres, possibly while they’re still in theaters. To appease exhibitors, studios have discussed a revenue split, but balked at proposed long-term commitments up to 10 years, according to Bloomberg sources. For the end customer, early rentals would likely cost between $30 and $50.

Source: Movie studios may sidestep theater chains in deals for early Apple iTunes rentals

Apple to spend big to ride our Content is King theme 

Apple to spend big to ride our Content is King theme 

 

Thus far Apple (AAPL) has stayed on the Content is King theme sidelines, but a combination of recent hire and a purported $1 billion check book to develop content change that. Granted, that $1 billion is well below what Netflix (NFLX) and Amazon (AMZN) are spending, but Apple has Apple TV – a solid platform that is bringing Amazon’s Prime Video and Wal-Mart’s (WMT) Vudu video service under its offering. As we like to say at Tematica, the only thing better than having one of our investment tailwinds behind a company’s back is having several of them.

Apple appears to be taking original content production very seriously. Building on significant talent hires, the Wall Street Journal writes Apple has readied a $1 billion budget to ‘procure and produce’ content over the next year.The report says the sum is about half what HBO spent on production last year.

Apple could launch up to ten new shows, with Apple SVP Eddy Cue said to have ambitions to offer shows that rival Game of Thrones.Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free TrialApple’s initial rounds of content have not been runaway successes, with Planet of the Apps and Carpool Karaoke receiving bad-to-mild reviews from critics.

Reach of the shows has also been limited to users with Apple Music subscriptions.However, until recently, it didn’t really feel like Apple was giving much priority to original content efforts. With a large wallet and premiere talent leading the video programming division, it is likely that the quality of Apple’s in-development programming will also be higher.

Source: Apple to spend $1bn on original content and produce up to 10 new shows over the next year, according to report | 9to5Mac

Musings on Apple’s “Record” December Quarter

Musings on Apple’s “Record” December Quarter

Last night Tematica Research Chief Investment Officer Chris Versace appeared on CGTN America’s Global Business program to talk about Apple’s (AAPL) December quarter earnings and several other topics. As CEO Tim Cook put it, “We sold more iPhones than ever before and set all-time revenue records for iPhone, Services, Mac and Apple Watch…” which enabled the company to deliver better than expected revenue and earnings per share relative to Wall Street consensus expectations.

While Cook boasted of strong Apple Watch growth, iPhone shipments were up 5 percent year over year, hardly the robust growth levels we’ve seen in the past. Meanwhile, the Mac business — the next largest one next to the iPhone at just over 9 percent of total revenue — saw volumes rise 1 percent year over year, while iPad units fell 19 percent compared to the year-ago quarter. One bright spot in the company’s December quarter was Apple’s Services business, which rose 18 percent year over year and boasts more than 150 million paid customer subscriptions.

Circling back to that better than expected December quarter EPS, we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out Apple’s net income actually shrank year over year. If it weren’t for the company flexing its cash-rich balance sheet, which clocked in at $246.1 billion, to shrink the share count during 2017 Apple’s reported EPS would have been flat to down year over year instead of being reported up just under 10 percent. Coming into 2017, Apple has nearly $50 billion remaining on its current capital return program, which means more share repurchase activity is possible in the coming quarters.

One other sour point in the earnings report was Apple’s guidance for the current quarter, which fell shy of expectations. One particular call out was the impact of foreign currency, which is expected to be a ‘major negative’ as the company moves from the December to the March quarter.

The long and short of it is that while Apple CEO Tim Cook called it a record quarter, the reality is Apple’s financial performance remains closely linked to the iPhone, which still accounts for 70 percent of Apple’s overall business. To us here at Tematica this means until Apple can bring to market an exciting new product, or reenergize an existing one that can jumpstart growth, the company will be tied to the iPhone upgrade cycle. Expectations for the next iteration, the presumed iPhone 8, call for a new body, new display — hence  Disruptive Technology company Universal Display (OLED) being on the Tematica Select List — and a greater use of capacitive touch that should eliminate the current home button and bezel. But we’ll have to see if this new model on the 10th anniversary of the transformative device’s launch will capture the hearts of customers, as the last couple of models have only had a meh response.

Despite its current reliance on the iPhone, there are hopeful signs at Apple, such as the new AirPods that echo past design glory, an Apple TV business that has 150 million active subscriptions and a growing Services business. The issue is even if Apple doubled its service business in the coming year, it would still account for 15-20 percent of Apple’s overall revenue. Moreover, if that happened in the coming year it would likely mean the next iteration of the iPhone underwhelmed, something Apple is not likely to shoot for on the devices 10-year anniversary. Near-term, Apple is likely to remain a victim of its own success in creating one of the most loved and most used devices on the plant.

We’ll continue to keep tabs on this poster child company for our Connected Society investment theme company, but with no evident catalyst over the coming months, we’re inclined to be patient and pick off the AAPL shares at better prices.

 

Additional Thematic Data Points from Apple’s Earnings Announcement

While we are not quite buyers of Apple shares just yet, there was a number of confirming thematic data points shared during the company’s earnings conference call last night:

  • Rise & Fall of the Middle Class — “The middle class is growing in places like China, India, Brazil, but certainly, the strong dollar doesn’t help us.”
  • Cashless Consumption — “Transaction volume was up over 500% year over year as we expanded to four new countries, including Japan, Russia, New Zealand, and Spain, bringing us into a total of 13 markets. Apple Pay on the Web is delivering our partners great results. Nearly 2 million small businesses are accepting invoice payments with Apply Pay through Intuit QuickBooks Online, FreshBooks, and other billing partners. And beginning this quarter, Comcast customers can pay their monthly bill in a single touch with Apple Pay.”
  • Content is King — “In terms of original content, we have put our toe in the water with doing some original content for Apple Music, and that will be rolling out through the year. We are learning from that, and we’ll go from there. The way that we participate in the changes that are going on in the media industry that I fully expect to accelerate from the cable bundle beginning to break down is, one, we started the new Apple TV a year ago, and we’re pleased with how that platform has come along. We have more things planned for it but it’s come a long way in a year, and it gives us a clear platform to build off of… with our toe in the water, we’re learning a lot about the original content business and thinking about ways that we could play at that.”
  • Connected Society — “every major automaker is committed to supporting CarPlay with over 200 different models announced, including five of the top 10 selling models in the United States.

We’ll continue to look analyze management commentary for more thematic data points as more companies report their December-quarter earnings over the next few weeks.

 

 

Apple Gets Serious with tvOS, Ups App Size for Better Experience

Apple Gets Serious with tvOS, Ups App Size for Better Experience

Apple TV has been one of the key devices to spur chord cutting, but it’s become an even more powerful platform with tvOS. Cue apps like shopping and ordering food for example via Amazon and Papa Johns (Did you miss the new Amazon shopping app for Apple TV?). As nice as that has been those apps have been lacking due to size, but Apple is fixing that. After tonight, apps can be as big as 4GB, up significantly from the prior 200MB. This should result in a far better user experience (especially for gaming… and you thought GameStop was already hurting), something we know Apple tends to focus on. This also serves to make the living room a greater hub in the Connected Society.

While Apple TV apps were limited to 200MB in size when the device was first announced back in 2015, Apple has announced this evening that it is now accepting larger tvOS binaries. This means that developers can now submit apps as big as 4GB. With today’s change, tvOS apps can now be just as big as iOS apps, which are also capped at 4GB. Apple says that this increase in size will allow for developers to “provide a complete, rich user experience” right from installation.

Source: Apple increases app size restriction for tvOS apps from 200MB to 4GB | 9to5Mac

Apple to get into the Content is King theme

Apple to get into the Content is King theme

Apple and the iPhone have been at the forefront of our Connected Society investment theme and Apple Pay lands the company in our Cashless Consumption theme as well. For a long time, Apple has held off creating original content preferring instead to be a platform via iTunes and its app ecosystem for others to distribute their content (Netflix on iPads, iPhones and Apple TV as an example). With the battle for the device consumer heating up, Apple is taking a page out of Content is King companies Disney (DIS) and Comcast (CMCSA) and moving into content to shore up its competitive position. We’ve seen Netflix do this and Amazon (AMZN) is charging ahead as well. From a thematic sense, if Apple can get the programming right, three thematic tailwinds are better than one or two.

Apple Inc. is planning to build a significant new business in original television shows and movies, according to people familiar with the matter, a move that could make it a bigger player in Hollywood and offset slowing sales of iPhones and iPads.These people said the programming would be available to subscribers of Apple’s $10-a-month streaming-music service, which has struggled to catch up to the larger Spotify AB. Apple Music already includes a limited number of documentary-style segments on musicians, but nothing like the premium programming it is now seeking.

Source: Apple Sets Its Sights on Hollywood With Plans for Original Content – WSJ