Warren Buffett’s interest in Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) has, to some degree, surprised Buffett watchers. The Oracle of Omaha has always been vocal about his dislike of tech companies, and he’s been even more eager to criticize those companies that apparently sell a one-off fad product.
But Apple is not as “faddish” as people believe according to Buffett, who spoke about his position in the company on CNBC last week. Buffett said he spoke to users and concluded the iPhone is central to their lives. “Apple strikes me as having quite a sticky and enormously useful product that people would use, not that I do.”
UBS: Warren Buffett Like Apple's 'Utility' Nature
A sticky product is exactly the sort of economic moat Buffett is usually on the lookout for and explains why Berkshire Hathaway has increased its Apple position from 10 million shares a year ago to 133 million shares today. One of Warren Buffett's equity managers took the initial position, but Buffett became personally involved and took the stake up before Apple's Jan earnings report.
In a one-page research note published at the end of last week, UBS analysts Steven Milunovich, CFA and Benjamin Wilson, CPA picked out the three reasons why they believe Buffett is now attracted to Apple despite his misgivings about the company and its sector in the past.
First off, it appears Buffett now considers Apple at least as much as a consumer as a tech company. The business can be viewed as a luxury products consumer goods firm, which is significantly more attractive than a consumer electronics play susceptible to disruption. Further, the company can drive growth from its existing installed base:
“Growth in the installed base, which drives both product and services, can give investors confidence in franchise sustainability even if Apple doesn't explicitly price its offerings as a subscription. Tech investors may underestimate this.”
Second, Apple has infused itself into the world’s tech infrastructure, becoming somewhat of a tech utility. “Apparently Buffett believes Apple is not as vulnerable to change, so he can benefit from compounding of the base and spending.”
And thirdly, due to stock buybacks funded by Apple’s enormous cash generation, the company’s share price can increase without the market capitalization rising in proportion. Consequently, “Apple might never be a $1tn market cap, but it doesn't need to be to be worth owning.”
The analysts have a 12-month price target of $151 on the stock.
Disclosure: The author owns no share mentioned.