Anyone who doubts the value and effectiveness of the Security and Exchange Commission's new full disclosure policy should check out Rule Maker JDS Uniphase's (Nasdaq: JDSU) website for a quick sanity check.
Archived on the company's news release page are five presentations made at analyst conferences in November. These easy-to-access Web casts provide the individual investor with hours of information on JDS and the optical components industry from executives such as President and Chief Operating Officer Charles Abbe and Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Anthony Muller, clearly officials the average investor wouldn't have much chance of catching on the phone.
By no means is JDS alone in this kind of disclosure. Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) has a link on its website to its Year 2000 Executive Web cast, and Cisco's (Nasdaq: CSCO) website has a link to a Web cast of the company's presentation at a recent technology conference. All you need is a browser and a decent Internet connection. We're seeing more and more of these kinds of disclosures, which, in the majority of cases, wouldn't have been available to investors a year or even six months ago. Before full disclosure, analysts and institutional investors would have been the only ones on the receiving end of these transmissions.
You might remember the fluff generated by organizations such as the Securities Industry Association, which argued that full disclosure would actually hamper the flow of information. See if you can swallow this argument. Company officials, afraid of violating the full disclosure rule, would say less than ever, so full disclosure would backfire and investors would end up empty-handed.
This argument is ridiculous and has the scent of desperation. Some on Wall Street want us to believe full disclosure will shut off the flow of information, yet we have on the JDS website access to hours of information that probably wouldn't have seen the light of day if it weren't for full disclosure.
I don't pretend to see all the ripples full disclosure will cause, and there likely will be instances where, in the short run, less information is provided. But, I have no doubt in the long run that investors will be better off with a level playing field.
Investors, of course, aren't the only ones who have to fight for equal access to information. In writing about the Pythagoreans and their efforts to keep certain mathematical knowledge secret, Carl Sagan, author of Cosmos, wrote, "Even today there are scientists opposed to the popularization of science: the sacred knowledge is to be kept within the cult, unsullied by public understanding." Sagan, of course, was bitterly criticized by some colleagues who disapproved of his populist efforts.
No question this kind of elitist mentality extends to many places, including to some in the professional investing community. There are some who believe the public needs analysts to filter information before it's safe to drink, or that panicky executives will suddenly fail to publicize information because the SEC says they must tell everyone at the same time. I'm skeptical. Those who don't believe full disclosure is a concept all investors should embrace probably have a vested interest not to.
A few highlights from the JDS conference presentations:
-- JDS executives stressed how important it is that component prices fall to drive industry growth, especially on the consumer side of the equation. Carriers like WorldCom (Nasdaq: WCOM) are getting squeezed as network costs expand faster than revenues from new services. This isn't exactly a sustainable situation. While costs for cutting-edge components fall on average 15% to 20% annually, one JDS executive said prices will have to fall by orders of magnitude for demand to take off. The executive, Charles Abbe, said he expects this to happen over the long term, and he cited costs as a key issue going forward.
So, what is the company doing to drive costs down? Manufacturing efficiencies are a big part of the solution. JDS now has 26 factories worldwide and is committed to quadrupling capacity every 18 months. At the end of fiscal 1999 (June 30), it had 1.2 million square feet of manufacturing space; 3.6 million at the end of fiscal 2000; and it expects to have more than 5 million by the end of fiscal 2001, not counting factory space from SDL (Nasdaq: SDLI), which JDS is merging with.
Great, so what does extra factory space mean? In the first quarter, JDS increased capacity of wideband filter components by one-third; lithium niobate modulators by 40%; isolator capacity doubled; and high-speed photo diode receivers by 300%.
Further, CFO Anthony Muller said the company currently has 40 automation projects underway to help scale production. Automation will play a major part in scaling the industry, cutting costs, and thereby driving growth. Areas JDS is focusing on include process development, optical assembly, measurement, and testing. Some benefits achieved in the first quarter include a 50% productivity increase in the wafer-dicing of lasers (cutting out laser chips from silicon wafers); a 130% increase in optical amplifier splicing; and a 1,600% improvement in automated testing of WDM and amplifier equipment.
-- Second, JDS is providing investors with a more useful presentation of its product portfolio and trends in the industry. Rather than simply breaking product lines into "active" or "passive" categories and modules, JDS is describing its products as falling into one of four key areas:
1. Transmission: lasers, modulators, receivers, photodetectors
2. DWDM equipment: multiplexers, demultiplexers, arrayed waveguides
3. Amplification: Erbium doped fiber amplifications systems, components, Raman amplifiers
4. Switching: opto-electric technology, MEMS technology, etc.
In each of these areas, JDS has solid market share in existing technology, as well as a focus on the next-generation technology to give it strong field position going forward.
Both Muller and Abbe provide useful information on these product areas, as well as information about the status of outsourcing initiatives in its presentations at the Wit Soundview and Chase H&Q conferences. Both are linked above on the JDS website.
By the way, the optical component sector is one of 17 industries covered in this year's Industry Focus. For more information on the industries covered, as well as purchasing and ordering information, click here.
Have a great day.