Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Acceleration to nowhere

As I drove up to Kraft headquarters yesterday morning for a meeting, the news was filled with the story of Google buying Motorola Mobile's division.  
Google's Stats:
Market Cap: 179.92B. P/E (ttm): 20.10. EPS (ttm): 27.72

Last week,  Apple was pushing past Exxon Mobil to become the most valuable company by market capitalization. That happened on Tuesday, with the two companies swapping places several times.

Apple's Stats:
Market Cap: 355.46B. P/E (ttm): 15.17. EPS (ttm): 25.28Share SphereImage by tenaciousme via Flickr

Sounded like signs of good news just one week following the averted debt crisis.  One week after S&P's  unprecedented downgrade of US long term debt tripped off a week of trading frenzy and dominating headlines depicting the total collapse of markets around the globe. But last night,  Warren Buffett, the oracle of Omaha, optimistically commented on Charlie Rose that  "the U.S. economy may pick up faster than the Federal Reserve expects and that the U.S. and Asia can probably weather the euro-zone debt crisis."

So what's really going on? No one knows.  Michael Warlan, a Third Avenue trader who was very busy this past week, asked if he was happy with his trades,  replied, "“I’m happy we had a plan in place...."  Read more:" http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/14/business/market-frenzy-from-trading-rooms-to-living-rooms.html?pagewanted=4&src=rechp

In the face of crisis, it's always good to have a plan.  Even better have a clear strategy that includes a long term investment in innovation.  What's my plan? I don't have the cash that Google has on hand, or Apple for that matter, so I'm betting that these companies are going to continue to deliver for me.  But I also depend on social security to be able to fill in my earning gap years, assure me a basic standard of living if more market turmoil continues and my investments turn south.  That means our leaders in DC also need a plan. No one finds the political jockeying comforting, which is why Warren Buffet's admonition that he is paying a significantly lower tax rate than his secretary is another wake up call to DC.  No class should be more protected than another, no subsidy should be sacred.  On the other hand, let's be honest about growth, let's invest in the future wisely. 

I need to trust that leaders beyond the CEOs of Google and Apple aren't merely trading on the discontinuities in the market, or the ever shifting political winds.  I depend on their ability to create real long term value.  Market caps are nice, but Why do these two highly innovative companies  trade at valuations higher than most US stocks, yesterday Google closed at $557 and change and Apple at $383 and change? Because the market values not just tangible but intangible assets which innovation bent companies are chock full.  By the way, it's also what makes the US Treasury note the most valued safe bet on the planet.

Just as the debt ceiling debate was building to its height, Kraft announced that less than a year after its purchase for cash of Cadbury, that it would split into two companies, a US grocery company and Global snack foods. 
Market Cap: 61.25B. P/E (ttm): 19.82. EPS (ttm): 1.75 
Unlike the technology giants, Kraft took on a debt load, may have overpaid for Cadbury prompting Warren Buffet to question the wisdom of acheiving growth through acquisition.  The basic Value proposition was questionable.  By contrast, haven't seen any criticism of Google for its purchase. 

The Value of intangible assets 
In the midst of all this turmoil, my nephew, the sports writer, sent me this Sports Illustrated article: Game's shifting strategies leaves Beane, sage of Moneyball, behind . I'm not much of a sports fan, but I do enjoy reading Micheal Lewis and I happened to love MoneyBall.  At the time of its publication, I was excited by the story of an underdog being able to best baseball statistics to his advantage.  Sadly, as the article details, the advantage was not long lived.  It seems that Data was winning over story.  

How long will Apple and Google continue to enjoy their advantage that is rooted in their innovations? Is it the value of their patents that props up their shares or the returns on the realization of technology the patents represent that matters?  Maybe it's something else.   

Cover of Cover via AmazonDaniel Pink in 2005 published his book A whole New Mind, in which he extolls how right-brainers will rule the future.  A story opposite  the case of the left Brained analysts Michael Lewis extolls in MoneyBall (originally published in 2003).  Pink makes his case as follows:

  "Stories amuse; facts illuminate. Stories divert; facts reveal.  Stories are for cover; facts are for real."  But Guess what, Pink again "... in the conceptual age, minimizing the importance of story places you in professional and personal peril....with facts widely available and instantly accessible, each one becomes less valuable. What begins to matter more is the ability to place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact...the essence of the aptitude of story___context enriched by emotion. " (p. 103)

HMM...unless you are planning to cash out and live all in one day, long term value is what we depend upon. The advantage Beilly Beane and Jon Podesta had from using new stats disappeared much faster, the story inspires us to keep looking.  The larger point that Pink makes however is about making meaning or converting the data into something tangible.  The Debt is a fact. Sure, we need to deal with it, but the answer isn't in curbing the underlying value of our collective capabilities and resourcefulness by cutting investments that will deliver long term benefits.  Sure money is valuable, but experienced bond traders, like Karissa McDonough recognize something else.  
“The U.S. Treasury market remains the safest, largest, most liquid investable asset class in the world.” Governments like China’s,[McDonough] said, would be hard-pressed to find a better alternative.

What props up that value is that intangible also known as good old American Know how, the stuff that Google and Apple have  nurtured and fostered inside their organizations.  If you plan to stick around in the long term, perhaps following the leadership and mindsets of Google and Apple will help.  So will  understanding the principles Daniel Pink argues that deliver the original most portable expression of value that exists, believing in the possible.  

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1 comment:

  1. I can't count the number of times I have come across in the Leadership literature the need to tell stories.

    As humans, we are better at processing these than disjointed facts.

    I forget the source for this, but somewhere I read that stories are more efficiently stored in our memories than facts are.

    Also, I would caution about getting too hung up on Google and Apple - nothing is permanent, and their 15 minutes will pass as well. After all, GM and Ford were in the "nifty fifty" and for years were known as a hotbed of design.


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