The always-quotable Carl Icahn was on CNBC yesterday, talking up Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) ahead of today's iPhone event.
Everyone's talking about the consumer tech giant these days, but ICahn couldn't resist patting his own back with his timely purchase of Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX ) when it was bottoming out after the Qwikster fiasco in explaining the opportunity of buying Apple today.
"It was like Netflix was when you first bought in at $58 less than a year ago," he said. "It's amazing, and that was a no-brainer."
We can't take that great Netflix trade away from Icahn, even if the "you" he's referring to is actually himself. He went on to tell CNBC that he hasn't sold a single share of the leading video service, enjoying the multibagger that Netfix has become. However, it's not really fair to compare Apple today to Netflix when it was meandering in the double digits last summer.
Netflix was suffering from a lack of market confidence, but it didn't lose the consumer. Outside of a brief sequential slide in late 2011, Netflix's subscriber count continued to grow. Apple is in a different place. When it reports quarterly results next month, analysts see a third consecutive quarter of declining year-over-year profitability. It will be the second quarter of flat revenue growth.
An infusion of new toys should help, but the market felt the same way last year when it bid up Apple to a new all-time high the day the iPhone 5 hit retailers.
Even on a valuation basis, there's really no comparison. Netflix wasn't necessarily cheap when it bottomed out by most measuring sticks. Apple is cheap, but there's always an asterisk when analysts see you earning less in fiscal 2014 than you rang up in fiscal 2012.
If anything, Apple's position right now is probably a lot closer to Dell (NASDAQ: DELL ) -- the company that Icahn was invited to discuss on CNBC yesterday -- than Netflix. Both companies are struggling with sliding market share. The key difference here is that Apple is toiling away in markets that are actually expanding. You can see your global smartphone market share go from 17% last year to 13% today and still be growing on an absolute basis. Dell is in a more delicate situation, and Icahn's decision to throw in the towel and let Michael Dell take his company private is the right thing to do.
Naturally, Icahn is going to compare more of his future investments to how Netflix panned out for him than how his activist battle at Dell played out. That's his right. However, surely Icahn doesn't think that Apple will pop fivefold over the next year the way Netflix has essentially done since bottoming out last year?
That's just not happening.
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