Thursday, May 3, 2012

Apple @ $1 Trillion

There's an open inquiry posted on the Zintro website:

Their blogger-in-chief, Maureen Aylward, asks:

QUESTION: Some analysts predict that Apple will become the first company valued at $1 trillion dollar in a few years. With stock prices hovering at $600 per share, what does a market capitalization prediction like this mean for Apple and the market itself?

ANSWER: As a prediction, it means nothing. But is this a reasonable prediction, and if so, what will Apple and its market be like when this happens?

It's surprisingly easy to justify a not-too-distant future cap over $1 trillion for Apple stock. Has there ever been a company so successful in so many ways? Even bad news doesn't seem to tarnish Apple's golden image. But how long can a company maintain such exponential growth?

Anyone can look at the numbers and see that Apple's stock price and total valuation are in a range well outside several standard deviations of historic norms. This makes any sort of statistically-justified prediction ludicrous. Much of Apple's growth has come at the expense of its competitors; they have shrunken in value by about the same amount that Apple has gained. 

Extending this train of thought leads us to wonder if Apple's future lunch is just a larger share of a finite pie—the zero-sum game? How many companies will be driven out of business before Apple can reach the trillion dollar plateau? Apple's stock value is already greater than it's largest competitors combined! What's left but for Apple to consume itself?

On the other hand, it doesn't take an economist to know that we live in an ever-expanding world pie, and the most rapidly expanding pie slice is China. We can hardly begin to conceive of how large this market might become, or at least I have no means of calculating the effect Chinese consumerism will bring. But judging from the wild popularity of Apple's products in China, the trillion dollar goal doesn’t seem at all unreasonable.

While we’re making wild speculations, it should be noted that India is growing faster than China and is expected to become the largest country in the world before this decade is out? India might be also be the most tech-mad country in the world. 

Okay, so there's room enough for Apple to become the first company to require 13 columns of digits on their balance sheet, but have they got the technology and marketing savvy to continue their incredible string of new products, each one more popular than the one before? It strains credulity to believe that such a thing is possible. And yet, why not? 

For one thing, the culture of innovation Apple created is spreading, and not to it's historic competitors. The dogged competitiveness of other innovators, such as Google, Amazon, and Facebook is certainly a huge driving force, but there’s an even greater source of innovation helping Apple maintain its technological and product design advantages.

An Apple ecosystem has sprung up with an enormous international pool of independent and freelance developers and entrepreneurs. It’s as if there’s an endlessly expanding power grid spreading out from Cupertino, and the energy to drive it comes from the sheer brain-power wattage of so many brilliant, driven, people who find this the most exciting place to be.

It’s all quite intangible, but consider how many people would be willing to drop everything to work for Apple? This is what it used to be like for places like IBM and Bell Labs, the great innovators of half-a-century ago. IBM had so much brain power, that Thomas Watson Jr. had plans for building IBM University in Connecticut, and Apple is already larger than IBM ever was!

With so much innovation supporting Apple’s products, Apple can concentrate on pushing the entire ecosystem ahead, and this is exactly what they appear to be doing. Instead of reacting to competitor’s threats by blanketing the market with endless product variations, Apple remains focused on “the next great thing.” This strategic vision is what’s driven growth and will continue to drive Apple up to and on beyond the trillion mark.

Finally, can Apple remain Apple without Steve Jobs? Every colossus is different for being immense, so I think that even with Steve Jobs, Apple can’t help being transformed. Can they maintain the Jobsian focus and vision that created the colossus that is Apple? I believe the vision is clear for some years to come. I don’t know how long the current leadership can maintain the energy and drive needed to keep this vision in tact, but so far, it’s an incredibly impressive and successful group.

Apple’s challenge really is to remain focused. The distractions of being pre-eminent are huge. For instance, the U.S. Department of Justice price-fixing lawsuit brought against the six largest publishers and Apple, is always referred to as DOJ vs Apple! Similarly, the very real plight of Chinese technology workers is most notable and newsworthy because one of the factories sited makes Apple products! This isn’t unfair or unreasonable, just part of being #1.

So far, there’s no indication that the Apple juggernaut, the headlong consumer dash to mobile devices, and the storm of spinoffs creating an ever larger mobile market, shows no signs of running off the tracks. Apple at $1 trillion within two years? Sure thing!

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