Apple Inc. – Why it Could be a Fantastic Short

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Apple Inc. - Why it Could be a Fantastic Short

After watching Tiger Woods implode at the Master’s on the tournament’s Friday afternoon (see putting his 8 iron on 16 tee) and recently thinking about Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) (see an open short position at$ 595), a connection between the two popped in my head: this year’s Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) is the 2007/2008 version of Woods.

I know you’re scratching you’re head about this connection but let me explain.

Rewind back four or five years ago when Woods was at the top of PGA. Really, he was in peak form as compared to any athlete after winning his 13th and 14 Major. People started asking, “Is it likely that Woods will surpass Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 Majors?”

I’m pretty confident that the the majority, let’s say 95 percent said a resounding, “Yes! Tiger is on a path to become the most talented golfer to-date!”

He worked hard on his game.

He was a ferocious competitor.

He could not lose.

And time was on his side: he was in his early 30’s and he seemed to have the world on a string.

But think about the previous question and the strong probability that Woods would blow past Nicklaus’ record. It’s quite a lofty accomplishment, let alone winning five Majors.

To achieve this, you have to also factor in the unexpected.

Athletes get injured (Woods’ bad knee).

Athletes endure traumatic personal events (The death of Woods’ beloved father, his philandering and subsequent divorce)

These activities carry over to their athletic performance and before you know it, there goes all the consecutive tournament wins. Confidence wanes; fans become disappointed and sponsors dump you.

Then new winners start to emerge, taking over the tournaments, racking up wins and showing up in advertisements.

It’s only human to make mistakes–sometimes on a consistent basis–and many would say this happened to Woods. Sometimes you have to ask whether it was predestined for him to make these mistakes. But really, it’s not that simple and in life, there’s lots of different paths to take.

Occasionally conventional wisdom can become strong about a particular person or company; this is more likely when we’re talking about an icon or when the subject elicits an emotional response or a great sense of loyalty. I am not sure how this happens but I see this with Apple.

The conventional wisdom is that Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) is a juggernaut that can’t be stopped. But it’s not that simple: there are some pitfalls that we may not currently perceive. Which leads me to Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) stock.

It’s my belief that product maturity and competition will spur Apple’s revenue growth and margin declines.

And here’s 10 concerns that I see for Apple.

1) Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) depends on two products for a large proportion of its revenue; one is no longer rapidly growing in its lifecycle (recent quarter’s performance notwithstanding).

2) Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) requires ongoing innovation to maintain growth and there are reasons to believe its innovation is in a lull.

Think about this.

I may be wrong the latest iPhone wasn’t a huge improvement over the prior model. It also has expanded to additional carriers but where is the additional potential for sales expansion?

Apple’s iPad? The new one isn’t exactly groundbreaking either. We can now see Apple enduring some technological barriers such as battery size/efficiency.

Another one is the user data cost. Many new iPad consumers blew through their monthly data allowances from their plans in just a few  days. At the end of the day, Apple can add all the features in the world, but if it its’ too expensive for owners to use them, the we have  problem.

3) Competition will become fierce. When started its current run about eight years ago, Apple competed against Microsoft and other PC makers. In the future, Google and others will pose greater challenges.

Its Android tablet has been gaining market share and is poised to overtake Apple this quarter. While iPad pricing has been declining, its costs have steadily been on the rise. This could lead to a slower top line growth and margin compression.

Already iPad’s margins have started contracting.

Apple’s iPhone tells a similar story. Its competition is rising, inhibiting Apple pricing and forcing it to spend more for R&D, etc. Again, look for sales growth and margins to disappoint.

4) iTV will disappoint with its profits. A TV’s durability is 10 years as opposed to two years for cell phones, tablets and notebooks.  Manufacturers’s margins are thin.

I don’t see Apple as a content provider and therefore, wave goodbye to iTV as a third Apple profit center.

5) Can you say one-sided trade? Who isn’t long AAPL? Who will the next marginal buyer be?

Anyone who doesn’t already own the stock has ‘thrown in the towel’ and took the plunge to own it.

If you don’t own it and it remains hot, then you’ll struggle to match your benchmark. And I have to think there are very few who net short the stock. Indeed, a short position in AAPL is a career risk–colleagues and clients will think you’re an idiot for doing this.

And if AAPL doubles again, it comforting that the U.S. still offers 99 weeks of unemployment benefits.

6) Steve Jobs’ death was a game changer. The company’s success came from his creative genius and he is irreplaceable.

Sorry Mr. Cook.

It’s my understanding (sorry no inside information here) that Jobs laid out about two years worth of product development for the company before becoming incapacitated. This is why his absence has not hurt Apple yet. But at some point–say the next nine to 18 months–it will.

There is no way it cannot: A singular mind and spirit such as Jobs’ is unique. This is why his absence is a big deal.

7) If you believe the market is headed for negative returns over the next six months, shorting Apple  may be a good way to play this market. Why?

Institutional cash positions are currently thin and margin debt is relatively high. What happens with a faltering market? Investors will sell liquid positions that have been winners; there is no better example than Apple.

With recessions in Europe and the US along with slow Asian growth, look for a declining consumer appetite for discretionary toys. And as foreclosures rise gain post the Robo-signing settlement, millions will again have shelter expenses.

Yes, even Apple is subject to the laws of economics.

8) Was Apple’s dividend and share buyback announcement really that bullish? Yes, that’s a rhetorical question.

Usually when a growth company begins paying dividends, it means its no longer a growth company.

Apple may be different with their mountain of cash but if you want to conquer the world, you have to have a big war chest.

And if you intend to grow at a fast rate in a rapidly changing world, you may think you don’t need all the cash. You want to to appease your shareholders, even if they do hold the hottest stock in the world.

Why not issue a special dividend rather than commit to CFF OUTFLOWS IN PERPETUITY.

9) Apple is–and will continue to be– in direct competition with its suppliers. Don’t you think that will eventually cause problems?

10) And at the end of the day, you just have to say “bullsh**!” Apple’s market cap is now greater than the entire retail sector.

That’s scary.

No Position In The Company and no plan to initiate one in next 72 hours

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