The Danger of Earnings Season Extrapolation

gulliver

Gulliver and the Lilliputions

Yes, we all get excited when an Amazon.com scorches their earnings forecast or when an Apple Inc. Suge Knights the whole sell-side with a massive beat, but should that enthusiasm really spread to other stocks?

One of the dangers of extrapolating the good earnings reports out of Apple, Amazon or Intel is that in reality, these three companies have no real competitors.  I know they pretend they do (or even imagine they do), but trust me, they don’t.  Let’s take them one by one.

Apple Inc. (AAPL)

Apple has a monopoly – on Apple products!  They don’t compete with Dell for the simple reason that Dell doesn’t sell iPhones or Mac laptops, they only sell Dell stuff.  Hewlett-Packard, while a great company in their own right, also doesn’t sell iPods or own the world’s most important music store (iTunes). 

Apple is a de facto monopoly and so their results are only very indirectly meaningful to the sellers of any other personal technology products.  In fact, their success can be downright detrimental to the results of others (go ask Nokia or whatever jackass is working on the next iteration of the Microsoft Zune).

Amazon.com (AMZN)

The Buffetts of the world prefer owning companies that have a wide moat, meaning they have a barrier against other companies who would look to compete.  Amazon has moat that is filled, not unlike its titular river, with enough piranhas to eat any pretender alive who dares to set up shop.  Oh, and the piranhas in Amazon’s moat are armed to the teeth and carry an especially lethal venom containing a mixture of swine flu, asbestos and arsenic.  

There’s a digital graveyard somewhere in Silicon Valley filled with the remains of such pretenders, like eToys, Buy.com, CDNow and anyone else still hanging around.  And don’t get me started on Barnes and Noble, I buy and read 50 or 60 books a year and I still don’t even know their e-store’s URL.

Intel (INTC)

Referring to AMD versus Intel as a David and Goliath situation is being way too generous.  In actuality, Intel’s Goliath is really battling David’s pet poodle, named Pumpernickel.  AMD has been nipping at Intel’s ankles for as long as I’ve been in the business, to little effect. 

Intel’s push into wireless device semis has not been without its travails, but most of Intel’s business is in computers and they basically own the space.  How else can you explain 50% plus gross margins?  Intel’s good news, in the end, is Intel’s good news – not Texas Instruments’ or AMD’s.

When a big NASDAQ component like Amazon or a Dow component like Intel has something good to say, yes it’s exciing and sometimes market-moving, but I try to take it for what it is. 

Not every bellwether stock is really leaning on that many dominos.

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