Should You Invest Based On The 'App Economy' Study?

Includes: AAPL, FB, GOOG
by: Dana Blankenhorn

Technet, a tech lobbying group founded in 1997, is out with a report called "The App Economy" (pdf) which claims the sector has created 311,000 jobs since 2007 and now employs more than the software publishing industry.

While anything that comes from a lobbyist should be suspect, the methodology in this study is transparent. You can judge its accuracy based on that methodology for yourself.

Michael Mandel, former chief economist for Business Week, collected 90 days of help wanted ads using keywords like "Android," "App," "iPhone" and "Facebook," multiplied it by the usual number of tech jobs to openings (3.5), then assumed there's probably one support position (anything from management to secretarial) for each of those people, in order to come up with the 311,000 total.

If you take a conservative multiplier of 1.5 to capture "spillover" jobs (lawyers, accountants, etc.) created by this growth, he added, you get 466,000 jobs, all created around either mobile platforms or Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), since 2007.

While nearly one-quarter of the jobs are in California, the study shows growth in many major metropolitan areas from the boom, estimating about 10,000 such jobs have been created in the Atlanta area alone. (That's 3.3% of the total.)

The question investors have to ask is, how serious is this calculation, and where should money go as a result?

Many stock buyers have already captured big games by investing in the companies that center these ecosystems - mainly Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL). Google is up 26% in that period of time, Apple 448%. This makes sense given Apple's immense success in selling devices, defining its ecosystem, and capitalizing on app sales. The "hint" on this is the report is very, very favorable for the coming Facebook IPO (on which I did a blog post at my own site). Many venture capitalists and private equity funds have invested heavily in the IPO.

There may be investment opportunities going forward in companies which make apps that IPO, or which help others make apps. Or, others which do mobile advertising like ad network Millenial Media, which announced on January 9 it will make an IPO filing. (Those who want to dig into that a little deeper should take a look at its S-1.) Those looking for a raft of mobile marketing statistics should stay in touch with the good people at MobiThinking.Com.

All this is independent of the mobile networks like AT&T (NYSE:T), Verizon (NYSE:VZ) and Sprint (NYSE:S) on which all this data rides. All three have had stocks that have gone nowhere fast since 2007, and Sprint is down 86% during the period. Still, expect lobbyists from all these companies to rush off to Washington, screaming "spectrum shortage." (I remain skeptical of that claim.)

Yes, there is growth here. Yes, there will be more growth here. Smartphones are about half-way through the "S" curve of demand - sales are in a very sweet spot. But in tech markets, maturing comes quickly and growth always levels off in time- so be a little cautious.

Don't buy the hype - the reality will be sweet enough.

Disclosure: I am long GOOG.