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Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and a futurist all his life.He warned about the coming Houston oil collapse in 1979. He began making a living on the Internet in 1985. He launched the first e-commerce daily for CMP in 1994, warned of the... More
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  • Apple Diamond Platinum Service Launches

    Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), having made some inroads into the high-end market with the $10,000 Apple Watch Edition, today announced its entry into even higher-end luxury with Apple Diamond Platinum Service.

    CEO Tim Cook explained on a hastily-called conference call that Apple Diamond Platinum only starts with products. It also provides a higher level of service than any other technology company platform has ever sought to deliver, to the most discerning customers in the world.

    Any family with a net worth of $1 billion or more can tithe $100 million into a special account for Apple Diamond Platinum service. Under the plan, the customer's homes, cars, kids, pets and wrists will all be fitted with Apple equipment, and the customer will be given quick service response on any call, no matter how strange it may appear. "There are no stupid questions," as senior vice president of design Jony Ive explained, "only stupid people who ask questions."

    With Apple Diamond Platinum Service Apple WiFi at speeds to 1 Gigabit/second will fill your home and office, tailored to extend only to the walls and then stop. Mac Pros will be in every office, MacBooks in every living room, Apple TVs will connect to each set, the latest iPhone will be in every pocket and Apple Edition Watches will adorn every wrist. All these products will be replaced every six months, or on the day newer products are delivered into stores, for as long as the customer retains the account.

    When service or support is called for, one call or one e-mail to a designated Apple representative will bring one-on-one service directly to your family member. Whether you're trying to load an app, check the weather in Abu Dhabi or just get an advance look at the last season of Mad Men, Apple will be there to serve you under its Apple Diamond Platinum Service banner.

    As a mark of its intention to provide only the very best in service to the very best customers, Cook said, every Apple executive with a rank of director or above has been randomly assigned to a customer placing $100 million into an Apple account for Apple Diamond Platinum service. "That's why Jay Z missed the opening of the Tidal music service," Cook explained. "There was a kid in Abu Dhabi having trouble with his homework, and his name came up. Fortunately it was on the history of hip-hop."

    Cook concluded, "With Apple Diamond Platinum, Apple service and support open a new page. Not only will we be directly on-call for our best customers, but they will help us define the future of technology…."

    Unfortunately, the rest of Cook's statement was garbled, as we were told he had to leave the conference call abruptly. An investigation by Seeking Alpha has revealed, however, that he was actually signaled by his own Apple Diamond Platinum customer, in Shanghai, to handle a technical issue.

    While Apple keeps its Diamond Platinum account holders' names a tight secret, this reporter has discovered that it is a top executive with Alibaba (NYSE:BABA) named Yu RenJie.

    Tags: BABA, AAPL, retirement
    Mar 31 9:29 AM | Link | Comment!
  • Amazon Performance Matching Google?

    A lot of people at Seeking Alpha who are bearish on Amazon.Com (NASDAQ:AMZN) are, for some reason, bullish on Google (NASDAQ:GOOG).

    I own both stocks, and I'm bullish on both. Not necessarily over a week or a month, but over several years, I expect my return on both these companies to be strong. They have big leads in technology, they have strong managements and entrepreneurial CEOs, they drive out costs throughout the rest of the economy, and they dominate the cloud market.

    That's not the way most writers here at Seeking Alpha view them. We have Amazon's Moment of Truth May Have Arrived. We have Free Cash Flow Not What The Bulls Purport It To Be. We have Amazon Willing To Do Anything Except Profit.

    How about Google?

    A Blue Chip Gem for 2015. ModernGraham calls it undervalued. Even the bears see silver linings. What's Wrong With Google? Where Does Google Go From Here?

    Remember, neither of these stocks offers a dividend. You are depending on capital gains for profit in both.

    Both Google and Amazon are what I call technology mega-caps. Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is in this category. So is Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT). These stocks are widely held. It takes a lot to move them in any particular direction. Microsoft has just caught up from a decade of under-performance - kudos to Satya Nadella. But do you really expect it to keep that up?

    The fact is that since February 3 the performance of Google and in the market has been almost identical. Even the patterns are similar - down in April, up in June, down in October. And the result? Amazon.Com is down 17.28%. Google is down 14.86%.

    What about the future? I can make a case on either in either direction.

    I can find Google increasingly running into government interference. As searching and finding data defines so many things these days, governments want to control what's found, and Google - as the chief finder - makes a handy scapegoat. On the other hand I can see Amazon is getting into all sorts of businesses. It's getting into delivery, into devices, it's getting into new markets like India. It has a lot of room to grow. It's growing so fast, it is outrunning profitability, the way tech companies did decades ago.

    It may be that, over the next year, what Google does works better than what Amazon does. It may be the reverse. I suspect it will all even out in the end. It's a case of horses for courses. I like them both, especially when they're both on sale, as they are right now.

    Dec 16 4:43 PM | Link | Comment!
  • The Smart Guys At Blackstone? Not So Smart

    When investors are looking to ask, who the smart guys are on Wall Street, they usually turn first to the Blackstone Group (NYSE:BX).

    After all, over the last five years those who have invested in Blackstone shares have seen a gain of 147%. That's better than even the "sage of Omaha," Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK.A) is up 127% since December, 2009.

    So when Blackstone chairman Stephen Schwartzman says "this is a great time to buy" energy and energy stocks, a lot of investors will tend to listen. Maybe they will buy their own energy shares. Maybe they will just buy Blackstone.

    But investors, as opposed to traders, should know that you invest for the long run, not the short run. You invest steadily, and you take the bitter with the sweet. But too much bitter spoils the sweet. And taken over a longer period of time Blackstone has been very bitter.

    During the financial crisis, for instance, Blackstone was absolutely hammered. In early 2009 the shares were trading at under $5, against over $29 just two years earlier. Blackstone wasn't leading the market during the last decade, it was following it, and it was following the market right off the cliff, taking its own investors with it.

    Berkshire was hurt, too. At their low point in early 2009 you could get a share of BRK.A for about $76,800. The current price is $224.800.

    Blackstone, meanwhile, is just now reaching the levels it was at in 2007. It's still 3.5% below its starting figure, at $33.85.

    Where the big money "crowd" has been going over the last five years has been energy, and many have been leveraging their bets. Many have bought, not just shares in oil and gas companies, but the debt of such companies, attracted by high yields. Some have bought on margin. Each time oil prices have plunged, these big players have had to ratchet down their other holdings. That's why the Dow (DJIA) has fallen this month despite an improving outlook for the economy. The "smart" money has been forced to sell.

    The point is that there is a smart money "crowd" just as there are crowds in other areas. And the one place you don't want to be, as an investor, is with any crowd at all. You may profit while the crowd is profiting, but you'll be subject to their same groupthink, and suffer when the crowd suffers.

    When you hear Schwartzmann, or any TV talking head, brag about how they "got out" of something that was bad, or cite their own performance, you need to be wary. They may be talking about a loss they were forced to take. And their time frame is almost guaranteed to be self-serving.

    Schwartzmann, like a lot of the smart money crowd, is saying that you should buy energy now. But oil stocks are a falling knife. The stuff is in glut because people don't know where to put it. Even if everyone ran to the store and bought a high-priced, low mileage SUV, that car is still getting about 50% better mileage than the SUVs sold in 2007. This glut, like the natural gas glut before it, will take time to work out.

    When Schwartzman says he is looking for energy investors, then, he is implying Blackstone will be on the side of the table that is picking up distressed assets and holding them. But they could easily be looking for new suckers to take their own irons out of the fire.

    When it comes to energy shares, I'm going to wait for the panic to subside, and for the bankruptcies to start rolling in, before even considering buying just the strongest players. I want to see the "smart money crowd" wiped out before I'm going to invest in a boom-and-bust sector like oil again. The "smart money" was saying CDOs were safe in 2007, too.

    Tags: BX, long-ideas
    Dec 12 10:23 AM | Link | 2 Comments
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