When I took a young, cocky, long haired, Levis wearing Steve Jobs around to meet Morgan Stanley’s institutional investors to pitch an Apple share offering 28 years ago, I vowed never to buy anything from the man. He was such a great salesman, and possessed such a messianic devotion to his product, the risk of getting legged over had to be great.
This proved a good strategy for the next 18 years, when the company nearly went under three times, and the stock repeatedly plunged from its initial listing price of $22 down to $4. Disastrous products like the Apple Newton came and went, and then poor Steve got fired.
Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I was also creeped out by the fanatical cult following that Steve enjoys. Criticize an Apple product here, and you risk getting attacked, ostracized, deleted from address books, and chopped off Christmas card lists. There was also no end of abuse from my IPod and mac addicted kids.
I have to confess now that my prior prejudices caused me to miss the boat on Apple for the last decade, when the stock soared from $4 to $300, eventually topping Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) with a $250 billion market capitalization last week. Apple is now the second most valuable company in the world.
To see the company bring out a ground breaking, high end $499-$829 product like the IPad and sell 2 million units in a short two months during appalling economic conditions is nothing less than amazing. The recent stock performance has also been miraculous, bouncing back from a flash crash low of $195 to challenge its old high in a matter of weeks, while the rest of techland lies in ruins.
Forecasts for the global smart phone market are ratcheting up by the day on the back of surging demand from emerging markets. Sales could reach 250 million units annually by 2012, of which 17% currently is sold by Apple. The company has become a monster cash flow generator, spewing out $12 billion over the last 12 months. It sits on a cash mountain of $23 billion, or $45/share. Apple now has the envious problem in that sales of several of its products are going hyperbolic at the same time.
Some analysts have Apple’s earnings skyrocketing from the current $12/share to $30 over the next two years, which at the current 22 multiple would take the share price up to $675. If the company’s multiple expands to its pre crash average of 35 X, that would take the stock to a positively nose bleeding $1,073, giving it a 400% return over the next two years.
I’m not saying that you should rush out and load up on stock today. But it might be worth taking a stake on the next wave of fear that strikes the market.
To prove that I am not the world’s worst Apple analyst, let me tell you about Ron Wayne, who owned 10% of Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and you sold it for $800 in 1976. What would that stake be worth today? Try $22 billion.
That is the harsh reality that Ron Wayne, 76, faces every morning when he wakes up, one of the three original founders of the consumer electronics giant. Ron first met Steve Jobs when he was a spritely 21 year old marketing guy at Atari, the inventor of the hugely successful “Pong” video arcade game. Ron dumped his shares when he became convinced that Steve Jobs’ reckless spending was going to drive the nascent start up into the ground, and he wanted to protect his assets in a future bankruptcy.
Co-founders Jobs and Steve Wozniak kept their original 45% ownership. Today Job’s 0.5% ownership is worth $1.5 billion, while the Woz’s share remains undisclosed.
Ron designed the company’s original logo and wrote the manual for the Apple 1 computer, which boasted all of 8,000 bytes of RAM (which is 0.008 megabytes to you non-techies). Today, Ron is living off of a meager monthly social security check in remote Pahrump, Nevada, about as far out in the middle of nowhere you can get, where he can occasionally be seen playing the penny slots.