How Apple Stacks Up

I'm a believer in growth stocks. As an analyst for our Motley Fool Rule Breakers service, I think you should be a believer, too. But even I have to admit some growth stories are bogus, hence this regular series. We'll be taking a closer look at many of the market's great growth stocks to see which of them show real, numerically relevant signs of sustainability.

Next up is Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) , the second-largest company in the world based on market capitalization and a recent pick for our "11 O'Clock Stock" portfolio.

Fools know I'm a longtime Mac user and owner of Apple shares. I've doubled my money buying and selling options in the Mac maker, and I'm sitting on another quadruple today. As a shareholder, Apple has treated me well. Can the good times continue? Let's get to the numbers and find out.

Foolish facts

Metric

Apple

CAPS stars (5 max)

***

Total ratings

24,450

Percent bulls

91.7%

Percent bears

8.3%

Bullish pitches

4,778 out of 5,345

Highest-rated peers

Lenovo Group, Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) , Toshiba

Data current as of Sept. 18.

For the most part, Fools aren't sure what to think about Apple. But when the bears bite, they bite hard.

"Extreme top-down structure puts all Apple's eggs in one basket. And that basket just had his liver replaced. Look what happened to Apple the last time it lost Steve. When he goes, I think Apple is going to enter a long zombie phase much like Disney did after it's micromanaging boss died," wrote All-Star investor jvaskonen in August.

Really? I don't think the evidence supports this view. Tim Cook did an outstanding job leading Apple during Jobs' time away. He oversaw significant work on the iPad, including development of the iOS-A4 architecture that's become a key part of all Apple mobile devices.

The elements of growth

Metric

Last 12 Months

2009

2008

Normalized net income growth

39.0%

32.5%

81.1%

Revenue growth

30.9%

14.4%

52.5%

Gross margin

40.8%

40.1%

35.2%

Receivables growth

28.3%

38.8%

48.0%

Shares outstanding

913.5 million

899.8 million

888.3 million

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

You'd be hard-pressed to find better numbers than the ones in this table. Let's review:

  • Revenue growth has remained consistently high, and for the most part, outpaced receivables growth. The 2009 blip is forgivable because Apple was preparing to launch the iPad and iPhone 4 at the time.
  • Rising gross margin is always good. Here, it's great. Why? Apple doesn't need to cut prices to build enthusiasm for new products. If anything, consumers are still willing to pay a premium.
  • Looking at shares outstanding, it's obvious Apple suffers from dilution. So be it. Tech companies tend to reward employees with options, and options get exercised when stock prices rise.

Competitor and peer checkup

Competitor

Normalized Net Income Growth (3 years)

Acer

38.1%

Apple

55.0%

Dell (Nasdaq: DELL  )

(11.1%)

Hewlett-Packard

11.1%

Lenovo Group

(2.7%)

Toshiba

(28.7%)

Sources: Capital IQ. Data current as of Sept. 18.

I don't need to say much here, do I? Acer is the low-cost leader in many markets, so its performance isn't surprising. Of the rest, Apple is the only one to surround its computers with an ecosystem of related, high-margin products such as the iPhone and iPad.

To be fair, Dell is trying to break Apple's grip with the Aero and Streak, and Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM  ) has plans for a tablet of its own. So does HP. But none of these hardware makers has had much success in fighting in the iEmpire. Only Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) has made significant gains, with its Android operating system.

Grade: Sustainable
Apple is now the Rule Maker in consumer electronics gear. As such, it commands pricing power and premium terms with its suppliers. It also has permission from customers to market related products that might seem crazy at first. (The iPad, for example.) This is a train barreling down greased tracks. Either get on board, or get out of the way.

Now it's your turn to weigh in. Do you like Apple at these levels? Would you make it one of our 11 o'clock stocks? Let the debate begin in the comments box below, and when you're done, click here to get today's 11 o'clock portfolio pick.

You can also ask Tim to evaluate a favorite growth story by sending him an email, or replying to him on Twitter.

True to its name, The Motley Fool is made up of a motley assortment of writers and analysts, each with a unique perspective; sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree, but we all believe in the power of learning from each other through our Foolish community.

Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. Both our Motley Fool Rule Breakers and Motley Fool Inside Value services have recommended shares of Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Rule Breakers stock-picking team. He had stock and options positions in Apple and a stock position in Google at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader. The Motley Fool is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. Its disclosure policy thinks Monty Python is sustainably funny.


Read/Post Comments (4) | Recommend This Article (3)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On September 22, 2010, at 3:50 PM, applebull wrote:

    Great Article - Apple should split it's shares to reduce the Price per Share. This would allow millions of younger people to own their shares and increase demand for the stock. A lower price would also reduce the Short Selling Attacks since it's a lot more fun to run a stock down $5 or $6 a share than $1 or less.. A split of Five Shares for One would not effect their cash hoard and would reduce the share price to $57.46 if it was done right now!

  • Report this Comment On September 22, 2010, at 7:09 PM, Aeoran wrote:

    Quite an ode to Apple.

  • Report this Comment On September 22, 2010, at 8:20 PM, BR14 wrote:

    Apple stock prices can go up as well as up.

    And the options traders will spend their winters in the sun.

    Apples technology is pretty ordinary when you get past the glitz. Pulled off with a certain style of course.

  • Report this Comment On September 23, 2010, at 12:29 AM, ConstableOdo wrote:

    Will Berkshire Hathaway collapse when Warren Buffet retires or dies? He's not getting any younger. In fact, he's 80 and pushing the actuarial envelope. He could kick the bucket any day. Maybe investors should avoid buying BH because of that reason.

    I suppose only Apple is susceptible to collapse because Steve Jobs is a living god and it's only through his divine powers that Apple is in business at all. That's rather unfortunate for Apple shareholders, I guess.

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