Perhaps people are just asking for too much. That concept was pretty stark last night on the two most important conference calls: Starbucks SBUX and Facebook FB .
Facebook delivered a monster quarter, but it seemed that all anyone could focus on was a comment about how younger teens have decreased usage and how the company does not expect to significantly increase ads as a percentage of news feeds. The result? We got a real dead-horse beating about the peaking of Facebook and, even though ad revenue grew 60% and mobile ads are now 49% of the business and the company generated $1.8 billion in ad sales, you left the call with a sense that Facebook's best times are behind it.
Of course that's fatuous logic in that revenues for video and Instagram haven't even hit yet and the company is just scratching the surface of the ad market. Given that digital media now represents a much bigger part of viewing than television, specifically 5.25 hours a day for Internet vs. 4.5 hours for TV and the fact that Facebook has one in eight minutes of that time of desktop and one in five minutes on mobile, that's a lot of time to monetize.
But the analysts saw it differently, contending, at least from the questions, that the company has a self-imposed limit of how much advertising it can offer without spoiling the user experience, with an undertone that younger teenagers must already be turned off by the ads.
The Q&A turned the biggest upside surprise of the season into a downer and it shouldn't have been. There's no slowing here that I can find, but I felt very lonely with that viewpoint after listening to the interplay.
The Starbucks call also had a denouement feel about it. There was a sense among the analysts that Starbucks can't possibly exceed what it's done already. At one point it got so difficult that Howard Schultz mentioned that the "tension between us and you regarding comparable growth guidance" had gotten out of hand and it would be irresponsible to say that Starbucks will beat the 8% comps in the Americas and 7% overall.
Lost in the shuffle were the fabulous packaged-goods initiatives, the Teavana rollout and the day-part expansion. Instead the mob wanted facts and figures about how the Boulange food rollout was impacting comparable-store sales and Starbucks management just wouldn't go there. It didn't seem to matter to the analysts one bit that Starbucks may actually be using its stores as launching pads for supermarket aisle takeaway and for lunch and dinner, a true monetization of bricks and mortar.
Frankly, I found the Q&A here of the total nit-pick variety, but I respect the fact that most of these analysts are trying to build models and they are flummoxed about how to interpret all of these initiatives within the confines of the spreadsheet, a common problem when it comes to this chain. How do you value loyalty? How do you put a price tag on affinity cards and mobile? They don't know how to do it, so the credit where credit should be isn't there. Instead, the focus is on kinks in new initiatives even though Howard took pains to point out that the Panera problem --slow throughput on hard-to-make specials -- and new products isn't an issue for Starbucks.
The commonality of both conference calls? Managements are trying to explain how good business is and analysts were crafting possible theses about how business reached its zenith and it is all downhill from here. Hence the tentative nature of after-hours trading.
To me, we're getting a chance to buy companies at the top of their games for less than we might otherwise because of these updates, making the stocks more of a value. That's necessary because of the heightened valuations and the run-ups into the quarters.
Bottom line: these companies are terrific and while their stocks may be expensive, they are better than just about everyone else at what they do and to bail from best of breed this easily seems a little glib and a lot fatuous and I'm just not going there.