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Marc Gerstein

 
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  • Barnes & Noble: Misunderstood Turnaround And Potential Breakup Play Has Up To 80% Upside [View article]
    Interesting perspective but ironically, I found e-readers to be the solution, not the problem.

    For me, the eye-strain issue is mainly about font size. With e-readers, I can and do adjust. With books, I’m stuck. The transition for me has been amazing. Notwithstanding use of reading glasses, traditionally, I had always assumed it would take me about three months to finish an average-length novel. Now, with Kindle, I can knock off several novels per month and no, I never studied so-called speed reading. Now, I can read as much of the weekly Economist as I want. In the past, I cancelled a hard-copy subscription because I could read very little. And it’s pretty much impossible for me to get through a feature New Yorker article in print, but it’s easy on Kindle. As a separate benefit, my wife and I decided recently to buy a new place in a hot area of Manhattan, where square footage is always at a premium. She asked what I’d do about my shelves and shelves of books; I held up my Kindle and said that was all I’d need to take to Manhattan. So in some cases, for big-time book junkies, e-reading permits even major lifestyle changes. And let’s not forget bulk. Anybody here read Atlas Shrugged? It’s a cinch with an e-reader. But if you read a physical book, you must choose between a ridiculously tiny micro font, or a gym-style workout having to hold a decent-font-size copy of that 1,000-plus tome. Ditto for many other big books.

    Do I miss the feel of real books? Yeah. But this is nothing new. We’ve gone from stone carvings to majestic hand written scrolls to illuminated manuscripts to hardcovers with illustrations to bare-bones hard covers to chintzy paperbacks that quickly yellow to trade paperbacks. So evolution in the nature of reading didn’t start with e-readers and it won’t likely end there. Such is life. I also miss fountain pens. Anybody expect to give up word processing and go back to those?

    Bear in mind too that e-reading comes in varied forms. The articles on eye-strain refer to computer screens, which involves back-lighting. Kindle PaperWhite and Nook Glow are front-lit e-readers, which is the ideal kind of fatigue-free reading. And in both devices, the level of lighting can be user adjusted so it’s always just perfect relative to the illumination in the environment. And both are now so cheap, they aren’t alternatives to tablets; they are additions to tablets. (And in both cases, they electronically synch with tablets and phone apps so you can easily go back and forth from one to the other.)

    I’ve been a book lover since I was a kid, but I have to say I do think e-reading is the future. And I’m not so sentimental about the diminution and potential loss of B&N. Sure it’s pleasant and easy to buy books there now. But that’s because so few do. My memories of the chain’s heyday involve waiting on line to pay for sometimes as much as half an hour and occasionally, just putting down the books I planned to buy and walking out because of only one or two registers open and dozens of customers waiting. So frankly, waxing poetic about the love of going into B&N stores to buy books nowadays seems like someone talking about how much they love visiting the bedsides of comatose family because they no longer talk back at you.

    And let’s not get too snippy about AMZN. AMZN won because it is flat out better. NOOK definitely had a chance to gain the upper hand (tying an e-reader to a universal book format, and a brick and mortar chain that included coffee cafes – how good is that!). But in e-reader land, the pervasive experience was magnificent customer service from AMZN versus arrogance and nastiness from B&N. It’s hard to say anything good about AMZN on Seeking Alpha because for reasons some sociologist will someday have to discern, this venue has become a hotbed for AMZN haters (as well as AAPL lovers). But the reality, backed by dollar votes of countless real-world consumers, is that AMZN doesn’t so much wreck businesses as pick up the money left by inept arrogant businesses that choose to self-destruct. Don’t let some mis-step such as Hatchette blind you to the reality.

    I have no idea if the valuations posed her make sense. But if you like them and want to act, fine. But just don’t put your money on the table because of dreams of some sort of anti-AMZN backlash. In the world beyond Seeking Alpha’s cyber borders, that’s simply not going to happen.
    Oct 12 12:30 AM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • Apple, Google Will Crush Microsoft Just As Amazon Did Best Buy [View article]
    "You are very wrong. Someone emails me a word doc when I am on my Mac I simply open it. It opens in Pages. I edit it. Then, if I have to send it back to some poor bloke who can't use Pages, I export the changed document back to office and email it. Seamless."

    True but only in a very simplistic and limited context and one that is completely unsuitable for a bona fide business user.

    I do most of my work in Office. But before getting my W 8.1 2-in-1, I tried valiantly to use Pages and Numbers while away from my main work venue. It was a disaster. Tables I created in Word were hopelessly botched when translated to pages, and tables I edited in Pages were hopeless when converted back to Word. Highlights I inserted in Pages kept coming back as blank comments in Word. I also got fed up trying to define blocks of text I wanted to put into the clipboard for one reason or another; Pages kept going off on its own defining entire paragraphs and sections and battling me tooth and nail to get just the text I wanted. Meanwhile, I couldn't find any use at all for Numbers since it contained none of the advanced data analytics I need and since it was too hard to define and transition large blocks of cells and it couldn't even get the freeze-columns/rows the way I wanted. And in both cases, I found myself having to turn to google to figure out how to do things because the artistes at AAPL thought menus were passe.

    Finally, I broke down and paid the tab for Office for iPad. Eureka! It was still not all I needed (it was, after all, running on the iPad/iToy). But at least I was finally able to do some basic work while on the run and move seamlessly back and forth to my main computer. Complete perfection followed only when I got the W 8.1 device.

    The stated purpose of this article was to make a case that AAPL/GOOG is a threat to MSFT's hold on the business users. Rocco gets an F- for his non-effort. I'll grant that you at least took a shot at it, but I do think you need to learn more about business users; not the sort of things you could find out in your context as an IT pro but the things you'd find out if you REALLY learn FROM THEM what THEY need and do.

    BTW, in my comments I talk only about AAPL but the article is, actually about the AAPL/GOOG combination. I do actually find Droid devices a bit better than iPad (drastically better in file handling and transfer) but still not fully up to snuff since even the best Droid devices share some important limitations with Apple devices. While AAPL has achieved and will likely to achieve magnificent success in capturing business from people who never probably never should have owned a pc in the first place (but bought them in recent decades because that was all there was) and will likely continue to succeed as long as it can continue to please this large segment of the market, it would be foolhardy to think they are even a remote threat to MSFT's core which is the COMPUTER market (as opposed to the recreation/entertainment market), users who get paid to do what they do with these machines and need to do serious things with them.
    Sep 25 10:12 AM | 2 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Apple, Google Will Crush Microsoft Just As Amazon Did Best Buy [View article]
    Me out of line? That, coming from somebody who publishes a hit piece on MSFT that contains absolutely zero substance, somebody who, in response to my comments on the unmatched usefulness of MSFT for business users can come back with nothing other than some chickensh** about thinking conceptually!

    Me defensive? Seems like others have posted much harsher comments but I'm the one who attracts a specific response. Perhaps I touched a nerve. Good. Somebody has to.

    OK. So you want to be conceptual. Then be conceptual, not a whinny crybaby.

    Explain the concept behind AAPL's clinging to a walled-garden model, something that is a giant leap backwards into a hierarchical paternalistic past.

    Explain the concept behind AAPL's clinging to iTunes, a circa-1990s overblown dinosaur of a program that still resides on hard drives and flies in the face of the new generation's push to be untethered.

    Explain the concept behind AAPL's persistent insistence on supplying "do it my way" products that fly in the face of the very idea of personal technology, technology that doesn't dictate to users what they should do but empowers users to do what they want to do, even things that the provider of technology never imagined. (Hence the reason why MSFT is the ecosystem of enterprise, the engine that drives innovation and economic growth, and new discovery; AAPL is great at letting you discover what Steve Jobs offers you but stinks at allowing you to discover anything inconceivable to Jobs).

    My experience as a user of modern technology (not a fan, not a critic, not a commentator) has made it clear to me that there are two broad approaches to product design; (1) dictating, and (2) empowering. AAPL is firmly planted in the dictating camp. MSFT, on the other hand, is planted in the empowering camp.

    Is AAPL prettier and more elegant? Hell yes! Is MSFT clunkier and uglier? Hell Yes! Does MSFT take longer to get things right, to get the bugs out? Hell yes! But that's the way it is. when you dictate, when you limit, you have the luxury of precisely fine tuning and controlling the aesthetics and the experience. But when you empower others to create possibly things you can imagine and possibly things you can't imagine, you are not going to be able to control so tightly and leave yourself more open to mis-steps. Anybody who has ever done anything genuinely creative knows how messy and chaotic the "process" can be, and knows it can't be done with paternalistic tools that constrain.

    It's all a matter of choices and priorities. If you choose to pay maximum homage to control and to aesthetics and elegance, fine. That's what Jobs most loved. That is the tradition handed down from the past, whether it be doric or ionic ornamentation on columns, etc. where form is exalted apart from function. If you choose to sprint into the future with its wide-open anything-YOU (not Jobs)-can-imagine paradigm then form will follow function and since function isn't always pretty, form will often look like crap. AAPL has shown itself to be a magnificent elegant practitioner of the past. MSFT has shown itself to be a fearless engine that drives the future, however scary and challenging that might be.

    Is that conceptual enough for you?
    Sep 24 03:28 PM | 10 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Apple, Google Will Crush Microsoft Just As Amazon Did Best Buy [View article]
    "I'll just say there are those of us who think practically in very concrete terms and those of us who think conceptually."

    Translation: I'll just say there are those of us who use devices to accomplish things that are useful and there are those of us who just sit around and write any nonsense that comes to mind.
    Sep 24 11:55 AM | 5 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Apple, Google Will Crush Microsoft Just As Amazon Did Best Buy [View article]
    "Without consumer love and street cred, you're doomed with businesses."

    A statement only a blogger or conference-room PowerPoint jockey could love but which in the real world, is ridiculous.

    After several years trying to push, pull and tug iPad and Android devices to do what I needed for business, I finally broke down and bought a 2-in-1 Lenovo W 8.1 laptop-tablet. Finally, I've been liberated. I can now fully conduct business away from my desktop! What a pleasure to do what I need to do without having to struggle and fight with dumbed down imitations of the functionality I really need!

    Screw the "consumer love and street cred!" For a bona fide business person, there are things that need to be done quickly, smoothly, and the super-toys simply can't do it. It looks to me like the only way Apple/Google can doom Microsoft is by recruiting a bunch of Microsoft developers and putting some genuine business-oriented programing into their devices.

    As to BBY and RIMM, if you're going to use precedent to bolster an argument, I strongly suggest you learn how to do it properly. You can't rely on surface parallels. You have to dig into each situation to separate the essential from the non-essential and match up the latter. You never went past the surface.

    Sorry Rocco. I've seen interesting and engaging posts from you in the past, but this one is a dud. That's OK. Even Derek Jeter occasionally struck out.
    Sep 24 09:19 AM | 29 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Apple's iPhone 6 Market Impacts [View article]
    Just for the heck of it, I checked Max price charts for AAPL and AMZN on Yahoo Finance, and both show nothing more trivial blips that don't alter broader trends in stock pricing. So what have we: Fire Phone, iPhone 6 and 6 whatever (the bigger one) and Apple watch. While the hoopla on SA is massive, out in the real world, nobody seems to give a sh** one way or the other whether these product succeed or fail.

    Seems that the real story here is that the "devices" story (whether Apple or Samsung or Amazon or LG or HTC or whoever) is pretty much a yesterday thing. Calculators, color TVs, microwaves, telephone answer machines, desktop pcs, dot matrix printers, inkjet printers, walkman, laptops, VCRs, CD players, DVD players, mobile phones (the big monsters like the one used by Godron Gekko in "Wall Street," clamshall phones, etc. . . . . they all have their day in the sun and then either become superseded or ubiquitous and it looks like smartphones are pretty much getitng there with tablets not too far behind. Asto the watch, who knows. The video phone has actually been around since the 1960s (maybe earleir, I just saw it in the '60s) but it took naelry half a century for it to actually catch on. Not sure how long it's take smart watches, but right now, the apple watch (my reaction to the Jhonny Ives video on Apple.com) seems like a solutuion in search of a problem, and ditto the big payment thing. I'm sure those will eventually become the new normal, but like video calling, I wouldn't hazard a guess as to how long it will take.

    So . . . As to Apple fanboys, continue to knock yourselves out. After termination of Seeking alpha's Yahoo distribution arrangement, I'm sure the company appreciates the ad supported page views you give them, and ad one who uses Seeking Alpha for investment commentary, anything that's good for Seeking Alpha is good for me. So have at it pound those keyboards and debate until you fingers fall off.

    As to those actually interested in investing, take your positions in device companies, however large or small you want it to be, and then, get yourself a decent stock screener -- I'm biased as to which one, check my profile :-) -- and find other things to look at.

    DISCLOSURE: I have and use an iPad, a Samsung Galaxy Note phone, a Kindle Paperwhite and 7" Fire, and a Lenovo Yoga 2 Win 8.1 laptop, and of course, a Dell Win 7 desktop. So I see them all use them all and love them all fully cognizant that each is best at something different and sucks at other things.
    Sep 10 10:09 AM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • Herbalife: Who's Consuming All Those Shakes? And Why... [View article]
    Here's my question to you (and it gets to the heart of why Christine's research rings true for me): I want to try a Herbalife shake. How can I get my hands on one? I have never seen a club or any other place where I might walk in and buy one. I went to the Herbalife web site and am told the products are not sold in stores but only through distributors; fair enough. How can I find a distributor? The only option the web site gives me is to input my name and full contact info. I don't want to give my contact info. I don't want to hear about becoming a distributor (I am gainfully employed and have no time or inclination to deal with that.) I just want to try the product.

    So here it is. I am a consumer, nothing more. I want to try the product. Please give me SPECIFIC information as to how I can do so. I'm in Queens, NY. That, and the direct message capability of Seeking Alpha, should be more than ample as contact info.
    Sep 10 09:35 AM | 3 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Herbalife: Who's Consuming All Those Shakes? And Why... [View article]
    "Read Reuter's independent reporting: http://reut.rs/1weUXKR

    Why would Reuters not tell it like it is? "

    Having worked at Reuters and being familiar with Editorial (although I didn't work in that group), I beeive they mean well and would not deliberately slant anything. But my recollection is that the journalists were a unionized, bitter, badly paid, overworked, thoroughly demoralized group that devoted more energy to trying to find better jobs before the ones they had were eliminated or outsourced to India. I could easily envision them messing up a complex story like HLF because they didn't give a sh** and/or didn't have the time or resources to investigate as fully as necessary.

    Actually, I thought much of the HLF coverage to date in Seeking Alpha ranged from ludicrous to downright idiotic to self-dealing sleaze. This one, however, was a highly informative exception.

    Yes, I get it that she was commissioned by Ackman and I do think Ackman is so tuned into the folks at HLF because it takes one to know one. That said, he, too, has a right to hire a private researcher and in our presently pathetic excuse for a regulatory environment, he also has the right to turn her loose when he needs an extra jolt down for his so-far disappointing short position. (Given that Ackman commissioned the research, does anybody doubt that he ordered her to send it to SA?) But what the heck, sometimes unpleasant people still do good work. Wagner was a magnificent composer although a Nazi-sympathizer, and ditto Theodore Drieser, author of brilliant "realist" novels. And let's get real, even the much worshiped (on SA) Steve Jobs was a rotten husband, a pathetic father and a generally bad person. So I see no reason why an Ackman-commissioned research effort can't be first rate.

    I think the reason this research worked for me may have something to do with me living very close to the area in Queens where she conducted it, and her descriptions of the venues, the people and the local Hispanic community ring very true. And frankly, if HLF is really selling to consumers, why the heck is it that I have absolutely no clue how I might buy some to try? I get that it's not at CVS, GNC, Walgreen's, etc. (MLM marketers always whine about how "they" don't want the products distributed becasue the establsihed vendors are afraid of competition -- it's really a cute script.) But in this part of Queens, that is absolutely positively no excuse for lack of clear-cut distribution to regular consumers. Everything and anything gets sold here, if not through standard channels than through abundant selections of non-standard channels. Applying the basic occam's razor principle ("among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected") I accept the notion that HLF products aren't available to regular consumers in my area becasue HLF has no interest in making them avialable to regular consumers.

    I've long been on the fence about HLF. But this is the first thing I've seen on SA or eslewhere that I find persuasive. So now, I'm bearish (but not short becasue I still don't care enoough to deploy capital).
    Sep 9 06:21 PM | 7 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Apple's iWatch Profit Potential [View article]
    "Editor's Note: This article discusses one or more securities that do not trade on a major exchange. Please be aware of the risks associated with these stocks."

    Dear editor. I have suggestion for an added disclosure:

    Editor's Second Note: This article discusses and analyzes a product that does not exist. Please be aware of our embarrassment at having approved it for publication. We apologize for any inconvenience you experienced in clicking on the article.
    Aug 22 09:59 AM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • A Different Take On A John Galt Portfolio [View article]
    "What about the Dumbledore portfolio? He liked his sweets, so I'll kick things off with HSY. "

    Hector V,

    I know you meant this tongue-and-cheek.But I have to tell you, I really enjoyed writing this.

    I'm not a Harry Potter fan so a Dumblesore of portfolio wouldn'do for me. But if you want to become a contributor, that could be a cool idea. I'd love to see more fun angles. Everybod and his brother does a Warren Buffett portfolio (and if you hunt far enough back in my previous articles, you'll see I'm guilty), but after tackling John Galt, how about, hmm, perhpas an Alex Portnoy portfolio, or a Simon Cowell or better yet, a Howard Stern portfolio!
    Aug 19 09:00 PM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • A Different Take On A John Galt Portfolio [View article]
    Shane,

    You are correct in observing that there are high PB stocks that don;t have G-Scores. Data availability is always a challenge in quant work. Sometimes, it involves a necessary item a company doesn't report. And in a model like this, where some of the factors require five-year averages, some firms will be eliminated due to lack of adequate history. As you get into this sort of endeavor, you'll find yourself having to make choices, such as allowance for shorter histories in some cases, doing without some factors (as I did with advertising intensity), etc. There are no absolutely right or wrong answers.

    Meanwhile, that was a terrific and valid observation you made about the efficacy of a model like this in its ability to weed out losers. The same is so for the F-Score and a lot of earnings quality models. Generally, investors are conditioned to hunt for winners and beat the market. But there's also much to be said for starting with a ordinary list and then, underweighting or eliminating likely dogs. Data published by Mohanram, Piotroski and Beneish (earnings quality M score) all indicate good potential for that sort of approach, and my own testing based on more contemporary data confirms that.
    Aug 18 12:35 AM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • A Different Take On A John Galt Portfolio [View article]
    Who cares? In case you hadn't picked up the hints, I found that part of the book an incoherent mess and frankly, had by that point lost interest in the details. For an expression of the philosophy, I rely on The Virtue of Selfishness.
    Aug 17 01:04 PM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • Reacting To Earnings Reports: Let's Get Real! [View article]
    Hey Mr. Literacy, I never said Apple was a corporate coward. That comes from Small Pharma Analyst, who articulated the essence of corporate cowardice: "Their main concern is they don't want to come out with a flop since it will hurt their image, so they will take the time and energy to make sure their next innovation is truly ground breaking."

    Will Apple actually have another product cycle? Who the hell knows? I'm not a fanboy so I can't go on blind faith.
    Aug 17 12:04 AM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Reacting To Earnings Reports: Let's Get Real! [View article]
    "When Jobs died three years ago, Apple's revenue was $107B. This year they hit $103B in their first two quarters. I'm hoping you are good enough with numbers to see why that is a good thing. If you need help with that one, just ask. "

    No I don't need help with this one. I hadn't realized that all the $103B in revenue they generated in the first two quarters came from products that had nothing to do with Jobs. I was completely unaware that Tim Cook was such a great innovator. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Where else can one be educated so well as in the Seeking Alpha community?
    Aug 16 06:02 PM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Reacting To Earnings Reports: Let's Get Real! [View article]
    "Their main concern is they don't want to come out with a flop since it will hurt their image, so they will take the time and energy to make sure their next innovation is truly ground breaking."

    Steve Jobs, the driving force behind their magnificent innovation wave came out with flops (Anybody own a Lisa? How about a Next?) and it definitely hurt his image. But hey, that's life. If you're scared of failure or worried about image, innovation won't happen. A culture of corporate cowardice is incompatible with ground-breaking innovation.

    Fortunately, for Apple, we need not worry about corporate cowardice. Jobs is way too powerful for that. Oh . . . wait a minute . . . Jobs isn't with us any more.
    Aug 16 08:49 AM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
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