Apple’s negative pre-announcement serves as a reminder to the number of risks that have accumulated

Apple’s negative pre-announcement serves as a reminder to the number of risks that have accumulated

 

We are “breaking in” to share my thoughts with you on the implications of Apple’s (AAPL) downside December quarter earnings news last night. Quickly this is exactly of what I was concerned about in early December, but rather than take a victory lap, let’s discuss what it means and what we’re going to do. 

Last night we received a negative December quarter earnings preannouncement from Apple (AAPL), which is weighing on both AAPL shares as well as the overall market. It serves as a reminder to the number of risks that have accumulated during the December quarter – the slowing global economy, including here at home; the US-China trade war; Brexit and other geopolitical uncertainty in the eurozone; the strong dollar; shrinking liquidity and a Fed that looks to remain on its rate hike path while also unwinding its balance sheet. Lenore Hawkins and I talked about these at length on the Dec. 21 podcast, which you can listen to here.

In short, a growing list of worries that are fueling uncertainty in the market and in corporate boardrooms. When the outlook is less than clear, companies tend to issue conservative guidance which may conflict with Wall Street consensus expectations. In the past when that has happened, it’s led to a re-think in growth prospects for both the economy, corporate profits and earnings, the mother’s milk for stock prices.

These factors and what they are likely to mean when companies begin issuing their December quarter results and 2019 outlooks in the coming weeks, were one of the primary reasons we added the ProShares Short S&P 500 (SH) shares to our holdings in just under a month ago. While the market fell considerably during December, our SH shares rose 5% offering some respite from the market pain. As expectations get reset, and odds are they will, we will continue to focus on the thematic tailwinds and thematic signals that have been and will remain our North Star for the Thematic Leaders and the larger Select List.

 

What did Apple have to say?

In a letter to shareholders last night, Apple CEO Tim Cook shared that revenue for the quarter would come in near $84 billion for the quarter vs. the consensus estimate of $91.5 billion and $88.3 billion, primarily due to weaker than expected iPhone sales. In the letter, which can be read here, while Apple cited several known headwinds for the quarter that it baked into its forecast such as iPhone launch timing, the dollar, supply constraints, and growing global economic weakness, it fingered stronger than expected declines in the emerging markets and China in particular.

Per the letter, most of the “revenue shortfall to our guidance, and over 100 percent of our year-over-year worldwide revenue decline occurred in Greater China across iPhone, Mac, and iPad.”

Cook went on to acknowledge the slowing China economy, which we saw evidence of in yesterday’s December Markit data for China. Per that report,

“The Caixin China General Manufacturing PMI dipped to 49.7 in December, the first time since May 2017 that the reading has been below 50, the mark that separates expansion from contraction. The sub-index for new orders slid below the breakeven point of 50 for the first time since June 2016, reflecting decreasing demand in the manufacturing sector.”

In our view here at Tematica, that fall in orders likely means China’s economy will be starting off 2019 in contraction mode. This will weigh on corporate management teams as they formulate their formal guidance to be issued during the soon to be upon us December quarter earnings season.

Also, in his letter, Cook called out the “rising trade tensions with the United States”  and the impact on iPhone demand in particular.

In typical Apple fashion, it discussed the long-term opportunities, including those in China, and other positives, citing that Services, Mac, iPad, Wearables/Home/Accessories) combined to grow almost 19% year-over-year during the quarter with records being set in a number of other countries. While this along with the $130 billion in cash that Apple has on its balance sheet exiting the December quarter, bode well for the long-term as well as its burgeoning efforts in healthcare and streaming entertainment, Apple shares came under pressure last night and today.

 

Odds are there will more negative earnings report to come

In light of the widespread holding of Apple shares across investor portfolios, both institutional and individual, as well as its percentage in the major market indices, we’re in for some renewed market pressure. There is also the reality that Apple’s decision to call out the impact of U.S.-China trade will create a major ripple effect that will lead to investors’ renewed focus on the potential trade-related downside to many companies and on the negative effect of China’s slowing economy.

In recent months we’ve heard other companies ranging from General Motors (GM) to FedEx (FDX) express concerns over the trade impact, but Apple’s clearly calling out its impact will have reverberations on companies that serve markets tied to both the smartphone and China-related demand. Overnight we saw key smartphone suppliers ranging from Skyworks Solutions (SWKS) and Qorvo (QRVO) come under pressure, and the same can be said for luxury goods companies as well. We’d note that Skyworks and Qorvo are key customers for Select List resident AXT Inc (AXTI, which means if we follow the Apple revenue cut through the supply chain, it will land on AXT and its substrate business.

All of the issues discussed above more than likely mean Apple will not be the only company to issues conservative guidance. Buckle up, it’s going to be a volatile few weeks ahead.

 

Positives to watch for in the coming weeks and months

While the near-term earnings season will likely mean additional pain, there are drivers that could lift shares higher from current levels in the coming months. These include a trade deal with China that has boasts a headline win for the US, but more importantly contains positive progress on key issues such as R&D technology theft, cybercrimes and the like – in other words, some of the meaty issues. There is also the Federal Reserve and expected monetary policy path that currently calls for two rate hikes this year. If the Fed is data dependent, then it likely knows of the negative wealth effect to be had following the drop in the stock market over the last few months.

Per Moody’s economist Mark Zandi, if stocks remained where there were as of last night’s close, it would equate to a $6 trillion drop in household wealth over the last 12-15 months. Per Zani, that would trim roughly 0.5% to 2019 GDP – again if the stock market stayed at last night’s close for the coming weeks and months. As we’re seeing today, and given my comments about the upcoming earnings season, odds are that 2019 GDP cut will be somewhat larger. That would likely be an impetus for the Fed to “slow its roll” on interest rates or at least offer dovish comments when discussing the economy.

Complicating matters is the current government shutdown, which has both the Census Bureau and Bureau of Economic Analysis closed. Even though there will be some data to be had, such as tomorrow’s December 2018 Employment Report from the Labor Department, it means the usual steady flow of economic data will not be had until the government re-opens. No data makes it rather difficult to judge the speed of the economy from all of us, including the Fed.

Given all of the above, we’ll continue to keep our more defensive positions companies like McCormick & Co. (MKC), Costco Wholesale (COST), and the ProShares Short S&P 500 shares intact. We’ll continue to watch input costs and what they mean for corporate profits at the margin – case in point is Del Frisco’s (DFRG), which is benefitting from not only falling protein costs but has been approached by an activist investor that could put the company in play. With Apple, Dycom Industries (DY), and AXT, we will see 5G networks lit this year here in the US, which will soon be followed by other such networks across the globe in the coming years. Samsung, Lenovo/Motorola and others have announced 5G smartphones will be shipping by mid-2019, and we expect Apple to once again ride that tipping point in 2020. That along with its growing Services business and other efforts to increase the stickiness of iPhone (medical, health, streaming, payments services), keeps us long-term bulls on AAPL shares.

When not if but when, the stock market finds its footing, which likely won’t be until after the December quarter earnings season at the soonest, we will look to strategically scale into a number of positions for the Thematic Leaders and the Select List.

 

Weekly Issue: Many Confirming Data Points from Retail Sales Report

Weekly Issue: Many Confirming Data Points from Retail Sales Report

 

KEY POINTS FROM THIS ISSUE:

  • Our price target on Amazon (AMZN) shares remains $1,750
  • Our price target on United Parcel Service (UPS) remains $130
  • Our price target on Costco Wholesale (COST) remains $210.
  • Our price target on Habit Restaurant (HABT) shares remains $11.50
  • Our price target on Applied Materials (AMAT) shares remains $65.
  • Our price target on Apple (AAPL) shares remains $200.

 

Yesterday, we received the latest monthly Retail Sales report and it once again confirmed not only several of our investing themes, but also several of our Tematica Investing Select List holdings as well. While I and others at Team Tematica put these and other such reports through the grinder to ensure we understand what the data is telling us, I have to say some reports are more of a pleasure to read than others. In this case, it was a great read. First, let’s dig into the actual report and then follow up with some thematic insight and commentary. 

April Retail Sales – the data and comments

Per the Census Bureau, April total Retail Sales & Food Services rose 4.7% year over year, with the core Retail Sales ex-auto parts and food services up 4.8% compared to April 2017. A modest downtick compared to the year over year growth registered in March, but a tad higher than the February comparison.

Subscribers will not be bowled over to learn the two key retail drivers were gas stations (up 11.7% year over year) followed by Nonstore retailers (9.6%). The two categories that have been a drag on the overall retail comparisons – Sporting goods, hobby, book & music stores and Department Stores – continued to do the same in April falling  1.1% and 1.6%, respectively. Scanning the last few months, the data tells us things have gotten tougher for those two categories as the last three months have happened.

With gas stations sales up nearly 11% over the last three months compared to 2017, real hourly earning’s barely up per the latest from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and consumer debt up to 26% of average disposable income (vs. 22% during the financial crisis per the latest LendingTree Consumer Debt Outlook) there’s no way to sugar coat it – something had to give and those two continue to take the brunt of the pain. As gas prices look to move even higher as we switch over to more costly summer gas blends and interest rates poised to move higher, it means consumers will continue to see discretionary spending dollars under pressure.

In keeping with our Connected Society and Cash-strapped consumer investing themes, consumers are turning to digital shopping to hunt down bargains and deals, while also saving a few extra bucks by not heading to the mall. That is, of course, positive confirmation for our position in Amazon (AMZN) shares as well as United Parcel Service (UPS) shares, which have had a quiet resurgence thus far in 2018. That move serves to remind us that connecting the dots can lead to some very profitable investments, and as I like to say – no matter what you order from Amazon or other online shopping locations, the goods still need to get to you or the person for which they are intended. I continue to see UPS as a natural beneficiary of the accelerating shift toward digital commerce.

  • Our price target on Amazon (AMZN) shares remains $1,750
  • Our price target on United Parcel Service (UPS) remains $130

 

April retail sales confirms our bullish stance on Costco

Costco Wholesale (COST) shares have been on a tear since their February bottom, and in my view each month we get a positive confirmation when Costco reports its monthly sales data as increasingly Cash-strapped Consumers look to stretch their disposable dollars was had in Costco Wholesale’s (COST) April same-store-sales report. For the month, Costco’s US sales excluding gas and foreign exchange rose 7.9%, once again showing the company continues to take consumer wallet share. As for the critics over how, late Costco had been to digital commerce, over the last few months its e-commerce sales have been up 31%-41% each month. While still an overall small part of Costco’s revenue stream, the management team continues to expand its digital offerings putting it ahead of many traditional brick & mortar focused retailers.

Finally, we need to touch on one of the key profit generators at Costco – membership fee revenue, which is tied to new warehouse openings.  If we look at the company’s recent quarterly earnings report we find that 73% of its operating profit is tied to that line item. As part of its monthly sale report, Costco provides an updated warehouse location count as well. Exiting April Costco operated 749 warehouse locations around the globe, the bulk of which are in the U.S. and that compares to 729 warehouses exiting April 2017. That number should climb by another 17 new locations by the end of August and paves the way for continued EPS growth in the coming quarters.

  • Our price target on Costco Wholesale (COST) remains $210.

 

Two favorable data points for recently added Habit Restaurant shares

Last week, we added shares of Habit Restaurant (HABT) to the Tematica Investing Select List with an $11.50 price target. Since then, we’ve had two positive data points, including one found in yesterday’s Retail Sales report. The first data point was from TDn2K, a firm that closely watches monthly restaurant sales. For the month of April, TDN2K reported same-store sales for the month rose 1.5%, the best showing in over 30 months. The April Retail Sales report showed year over year April retail sales at Food services & drinking places rose 3.8%, bringing the trailing 3-month total to up 3.6% on a year over year basis.

While our investment thesis on HABT centers on the company’s geographic expansion, these data points point to an improving business for its existing locations. Paired with the pending menu price increase, we see this data pointing a stronger operating environment in the coming quarters.

  • Our price target on Habit Restaurant (HABT) shares remains $11.50

 

Gearing up for earnings from Applied Materials

After tomorrow night’s close Disruptive Technologies company Applied Materials (AMAT) will report its quarterly earnings. Expectations call for it to deliver EPS of $1.14 on revenue of $4.45 billion. For those at home keeping score, those figures are up 44% and 26%, respectively, on a year over year basis.

As the current earnings season got underway, we heard very positive commentary on the semiconductor capital equipment market from several competitors, including Lam Research (LRCX). This lays the groundwork for an upbeat report despite the softness we are seeing in the organic light emitting diode display market. With more smartphone models poised to adopt that display technology, including more favorably priced ones from Apple (AAPL), Applied’s outlook for its Display business tomorrow night could be the canary in the coal mine for shares of Universal Display (OLED).

With regard to the core semiconductor capital equipment business, I continue to see longer-term opportunities for it associated with a number of emerging technologies and applications (growing memory demand, 5G chips sets, 3D sensing, smarter automobiles and homes, and augmented reality to virtual reality and the Internet of Things) that will drive incremental chip demand in the coming years. I’m also hearing that China’s state-backed semiconductor fund, The National Integrated Circuitry Investment Fund, is closing in on an upsized 300 billion-yuan fund ($47.4 billion) fund vs. the expected 120 billion-yuan ($18.98 billion) to support the domestic chip sector. This buildout was one of my focal points behind adding AMAT shares to the Select List over a year ago.

Since then AMAT shares are up more than 50%, and this upsized demand from China is poised to drive them even higher in my view. Before that can happen, however, the semiconductor industry has taken a leading role in the current U.S.-China trade conflict. This means I’ll continue to monitor this development closely.

As we get ready for the upcoming earnings report, let’s also remember Applied buyback program. I suspect the company was in buying shares during the April lows. We’ll get a better sense when we compare year over year share counts once I have the earnings report in my hands.

  • Our price target on Applied Materials (AMAT) shares remains $65.

 

Tim Cook confirms Apple’s move into original content

Apple’s move into original content has to be one of the worst-kept secrets in some time. There have been hiring’s of key people for key roles as well as content partners that have spilled the beans, but now Apple CEO Tim Cook quietly confirmed the move while appearing on “The David Rubenstein Show: Peer-to-Peer Conversations” on Bloomberg Television by saying

“We are very interested in the content business. We will be playing in a way that is consistent with our brand,” Cook told Bloomberg. “We’re not ready to give any details on it yet. But it’s clearly an area of interest.”

A summary of that conversation can be found here, and my $0.02 on this is Apple will be looking to leverage original content to increase the sticky factor for its devices as well as attract new customers for those devices. This is similar to the strategy behind its services business that includes iCloud, Apple Music, Apple Pay and other offerings. We could hear more of this in a few weeks at Apple’s 2018 World Wide Developer Conference but given the expectation for its content to roll out after March 2019 odds are we won’t hear much just yet.

  • Our price target on Apple (AAPL) shares remains $200.

 

 

 

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.

Is a Safer, More Entertaining and Eventually Autonomous Car Near?

Is a Safer, More Entertaining and Eventually Autonomous Car Near?

It seems every day we hear about the inevitability of the autonomous car, a member of our Disruptive Technology investing theme, with many hoping that it will usher in a new area of safety.  According to the Association for Safe International Road Travel, 3,287 people die, on average, every day in road crashes. That translates into 1.3 million deaths annually with an additional 20-50 million injured or disabled. Globally, road crashes are the 9th leading cause of death.

Clearly, there is room for improvement and Apple’s (AAPL) CEO Tim Cook agrees, citing the auto industry as ripe for a major disruption in a recent interview on Bloomberg Television. According to Cook, there are three vectors of change intersecting: autonomous driving, electrification of the auto and ride-sharing. From our thematic investing lens, this is where Disruptive Technologies meet the Connected Society.

Cook revealed that his company is focusing on autonomous systems, referring to it as a very important core technology that is probably one of the most difficult AI (Artificial Intelligence) projects to work on. Apple has hired over 1,000 engineers to work on the technology and just this April secured a permit from the California DMV to test three self-driving sports-utility vehicles. The company is clearly also focused on the ride-sharing vector of change, as last year Apple invested $1 billion — pretty much chump change for the company these days — in Didi Chuxing, the biggest ride-hailing service in China. As for electrification, it remains to be seen if Apple will develop their own electric vehicles or partner and sell their technology.

Apple is not alone, as the electrification leader Tesla (TSLA) continues to break new ground and Alphabet (GOOGL) is working on autonomous technology in partnerships with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCAU)and Lyft. BMW (BMWYY), in cooperation with Intel (INTC), reports that it intends to have Level 3, 4 and even 5 capabilities for self-driving by 2021. Level 3 is defined as conditional automation that requires a driver to intervene in certain situations, but aren’t obligated to be constantly monitoring progress. Level 4 is full autonomy, while Level 5 requires zero input from a driver to navigate city and highway roads and is expected to be at least on par with the performance level of a human driver.

 

A Conversation with One of the Pioneers of In-Car Information & Entertainment

To better understand the evolution of the smarter vehicle, on a recent episode of Cocktail Investing, Tematica Research’s Chris Versace and Lenore Hawkins spoke with Ted Cardenas, Senior Vice President of Marketing, Car Electronics Division at Pioneer Electronics Corp (PNCOY). Given that about 95 percent of his company’s business is related to auto and the company will reach its 80th anniversary next year, we thought he’d have some valuable insight. This is the company that introduced the consumer laser disc in 1979, the car CD player in 1984 and GPS car navigation in 1990, with around four decades in the car entertainment space.

Ted pointed out to us that compared to home or office-based technologies, the car is a seriously brutal local for innovation where electronics need to be able to withstand extremes in temperatures, moisture and vibrations – not exactly the friendliest environment! We discussed how the increasingly Connected Society allows for not just millions of on-demand songs, but also delivered the “killer app” of real-time traffic information thanks to all those GPS enabled smart phones tagging along with their drivers.

The Connected Society has materially changed product development for the car as well as it also means connected companies. The need for higher and higher speed data networks and the innovations that allow for and take advantage of them means that companies no longer have to, or should for that matter, go it alone. Each company is only part of the solution as we see more specialization taking place with the consumer benefiting from a simple, usually intuitive solution in which all the complexity has been blissfully hidden.

In this new development paradigm, relationships are increasingly important as companies specialize within the solution set and we’ve seen some of the complexity offloaded to smartphones, allowing for greater flexibility as consumer can choose which device best fits their needs. For Pioneer, this means offering in-dash multimedia receivers that are compatible with popular smartphone interfaces and apps such as Apple CarPlay®, Android Auto ™, and Waze®, as well as features such as Bluetooth® music streaming, hands-free calling, Spotify® and Pandora®.

Pioneer isn’t just innovating within entertainment and communications as the company is also developing advanced driver assist for both OEM and aftermarket, allowing owners of older cars to benefit from the latest in safety improvements. When asked about his expectations around the timeline for the truly driverless car, Ted framed his analysis in the context of the evolution of in-car GPS systems – an evolution by degrees rather than a binary event.

The first GPS systems were developed by Pioneer and were used to figure out where you were on a map, but could not provide point-to-point directions. Those first systems also didn’t provide 100% coverage, so drivers could find themselves driving into a GPS void when traveling in areas not covered by the devices internal maps. Over time the map coverage became increasingly more complete and turn-by-turn directions evolved from available only in highly-trafficked areas into the most remote. He suspects we will see something similar with driver-assist that will offer more thorough assistance in more populated areas with less as one gets into more rural areas. Over time the level of assistance and coverage areas will expand.

Finally, we discussed how the increasingly smart car will also do more of the heavy lifting when it comes to maintenance, providing a more seamless driver experience that not only provides autonomous transportation, but monitors and schedules its own maintenance needs. We likely not alone in looking forward to the day when we no longer find ourselves noticing that little oil change reminder sticker a few months and few thousand miles late. The car of the future will be safer, smarter and a lot more entertaining.

 

Companies mentioned on the Podcast

  • Alphabet (AAPL)
  • Apple (AAPL)
  • BMW (BMWYY)
  • Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCAU)
  • Intel (INTC)
  • Pandora (P)
  • Pioneer Electronics (PNCOY)
  • Tesla Motors (TSLA)
Apple CEO Tim Cook Thinks Disruptive Technology Augmented Reality is a ‘Huge’ Idea 

Apple CEO Tim Cook Thinks Disruptive Technology Augmented Reality is a ‘Huge’ Idea 

We’ve heard quite a bit over the last year when it comes to one burgeoning aspect of our Disruptive Technology investing theme – virtual reality (VR). There are a few flavors of VR, including Augmented Reality, which took the globe by storm with Pokemon Go. With Pokémon Go recently breaking a financial milestone – reaching one billion USD in revenue, it’s fair to say that AR is is hitting the tipping point. Interesting comments from Cook given that under his tenure Apple hasn’t released a new breakout product that has a meaningful contribution to Apple’s revenue mix. Cook’s comments mixed with Apple’s move into original content are likely to make for a very interesting Apple World Wide Developer Conference in a few months.

In terms of augmented reality, Cook reiterated that he is “excited” about the technology because it “allows individuals to be present in the world but hopefully allows an improvement on what’s happening presently.” But he added there are “things to discover” before the technology is “good enough” for the masses.

“I regard it as a big idea like the smartphone. The smartphone is for everyone, we don’t have to think the iPhone is about a certain demographic, or country or vertical market: it’s for everyone. I think AR is that big, it’s huge. I get excited because of the things that could be done that could improve a lot of lives. And be entertaining. I view AR like I view the silicon here in my iPhone, it’s not a product per se, it’s a core technology. But there are things to discover before that technology is good enough for the mainstream. I do think there can be a lot of things that really help people out in daily life, real-life things, that’s why I get so excited about it.”

Source: Tim Cook Thinks Augmented Reality is a ‘Huge’ Idea Like Smartphones – Mac Rumors

Speaking with Wealth TV on the Apple Tax Charade

Speaking with Wealth TV on the Apple Tax Charade

On May 22nd, I spoke with Graham Ledger on Wealth TV about the horrific show the Senate put on in an attempt to shame Apple for not voluntarily paying more in taxes than it required by the tax code by implying inappropriate corporate behavior.

The Daily Ledger Chewing Up Apple from One America News Network on Vimeo.

The U.S. Senate has been hosting a sham of a hearing to try and publicly berate Apple for not paying “it’s fair share” of taxes despite the reality that Apple is in full compliance with tax law. The government has not even once suggested that Apple has in any way violated the tax code.  To try and publicly shame a company that is in full compliance with the law is an embarrassment and a blight on the legitimacy of our political system.

The supposed crime is that the company has not voluntarily paid more than required by law to pay and has taken advantage of the tax code, enacted by the very group hosting this charade, to the benefit of its shareholders, employees, suppliers, and all the ancillary individuals and organizations that benefit from such a successful company. The federal government apparently would prefer that Apple voluntarily take money away from American investors, retirement funds etc and give it to the government to spend. Apple does far more good for the American economy with every dollar it generates than the federal government ever could.

Apple should not pay taxes on income generated outside of the U.S. That income is already subject to foreign taxes. It is ridiculous that the U.S. would try to argue that another sovereign charges too little in taxes, thus Apple ought to pay more.

To the extent that Apple is using the tax code in order to minimize its taxes by shifting U.S. income into foreign income, the U.S. should be taking a long, hard look at how uncompetitive the U.S. corporate tax rate has become and review the Laffer curve. By lowering the U.S. corporate tax rate, multinationals would find less value in such techniques, which would likely raise the amount of taxes collected.

I was beyond thrilled to see Rand Paul call the Senate to the floor for the atrocious nature of this hearing.

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