The Great Google-Apple Divergence

TheStreet.com

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Back in 2011, when I first started writing about financial topics, I remember pounding the table for Google over Apple .

I was still pounding the table last September. At Seeking Alpha, I wrote "A Strong Cloud Beats a Strong Device." Since then, investors have been buying that idea big-time.

Maybe too big. Since I wrote that piece, Google shares are up nearly 27%, a roughly $70 billion increase in its market cap. Apple, meanwhile, is down 34%, a loss of almost $200 billion to investors.

So my efforts have turned toward the other side of the trade. I have written lately that Apple is practically giving its stock away and that Google is in a bubble.


This hasn't changed the trend. Investors are still paying 250% more for Google earnings than for those of Apple. They're paying almost $6 for every $1 of Google sales and less than $3 for every $1 of Apple sales.

The reason given for the divergence is growth.

Apple's sales figures for the quarter ending in March, 2013 were only about 10% higher than those for the previous March. Google sales were up nearly 35%, year over year. Both companies offer similar profit margins of 25%, but Google's are on an uptick and Apple's have been trending down.

The argument is that Google is growing faster, that its margins are expanding while Apple's are contracting. That's true, but it still doesn't explain such a huge divergence. Such arguments are usually made to explain what has happened. You make money from what will happen.


What I know is that Apple, which before the divergence seemed to be run in order to please itself, is now trying very hard to please investors and consumers. The company has dumped a great load of cash on shareholders, is buying back stock as fast as it can, and now reportedly plans to launch dirt-cheap iPhones and phablets by the end of the year, USA Today reports.

Google, meanwhile, has been teasing a Glass product that may flop completely in the mass market, it has tied products together to control users, and it has begun running afoul of governments on both sides of the Atlantic.


Today Apple is increasingly seen as the scrappy underdog, Google as the heavyweight bully, and FossPatents writes that Europe is looking into Google's Android licensing practices.

The readjustment, when it comes, may be sudden. Things will probably overcorrect, because what was true for Google, that the cloud is more powerful than the device, is going to remain true.

But if Apple can even achieve a market-matching price-to-earnings ratio, it's a $600 stock. For Google to match the market multiple it would be closer to a $500 stock. Prices that don't match fundamentals are dictated by fashion, and fashions change.

At the time of publication, the author owned shares of Google and Apple.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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