One of my favorite opportunities in investing is identifying whacked out psychology. After Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) reported quarterly results last week, many financial headlines blared about a bad, bad apple. That's ridiculous, and that's why it's time to take another bite.
I manage a real-money portfolio for Fool.com, which I call the Prosocial Portfolio, focusing on companies that in various ways touch on social responsibility. In April 2013, I bought Apple shares (with some reservations).
After all, Apple isn't perfect in this area; few companies come close yet although we are getting closer as more companies retool their businesses for socially responsible factors. Still, there is something to be said for a great brand with much-loved products.
Regardless of investment philosophy, though, Apple shares look cheap.
Perspective beyond paranoia
The dark, depressed end of the market's well-known bipolar psychology doesn't reflect the true story. Here's reality check question to ask. Is tech giant Apple tarnished, hobbled, seeing tremendous numbers of defecting customers and a withering core business? No way.
Apple reported quarterly net income of $13.1 billion, or $14.50 per share -- mind-blowing numbers. Revenue increased 6% to $57.6 billion. Apple generated $22.7 billion in cash flow.
Meanwhile, it's well known that Apple has an astounding amount of cash on its balance sheet -- $40.8 billion, or a whopping $45.70 per share. That's a safe stock for any economic climate.
Apple currently trades at 11 times forward earnings, with a PEG ratio of 0.60. Although forward prognostications from analysts can be very, very wrong -- often another case when investors can figure out solid buys or sells -- given Apple's universe of powerful products, truly dire downward revisions seem unlikely.
Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL), another great company with amazing growth prospects, has been on a major run this year. Google shares are currently trading at 18 times forward earnings with a PEG ratio of 1.41. While its greatness doesn't necessarily make it tremendously overvalued, Apple is cheaper right now.
Let's throw Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) in for good measure. It's trading at 13 times forward earnings, with a PEG ratio of 1.83. However, given the fact that Apple and Microsoft are trading at similar multiples, which one would you rather buy, when assessing which company's products have addictive "wow" appeal?
Yep, Apple is a very good buy.
Risks and rewards
As is the case with any company, of course there's risk. Although the current hysteria is overdone, there is some relationship to real concerns for the long term. Innovation has been lackluster when it comes to the "and wait, there's more" wow factor for which Steve Jobs was known well. I went so far as to express that the iPhone 5c announcement simply ended up feeling "meh" last year.
Last fall, I even voiced some sentiment that Apple might be "Microsoftening." Sure, that was about future risk of too many lackluster product announcements and dwindling innovation. Unlike many of the uber Apple bears, though, I still thought Apple was a hold, and even a good buy. It was just a factor to watch, and one that certainly didn't point to immediate Apple catastrophe.
iPhones and iPads remain leading products. Apple still moved 51 million iPhones and 26 million iPads, both quarterly records and increases of 7% and 13% higher shipments, respectively.
Although many tech giants are involved in phones and tablet computers, Apple isn't exactly yesterday's news. One thing Apple has down pat is its seamless ecosystem of apps, resulting in easy customer experiences. This results in popularity and loyalty.
According to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, between July 2012 and June 2013, 81% of iPhone users bought another iPhone, compared to just 68% of Android users. The kicker: iPhone grabbed three times more users from defecting Android users, while Android only gained 7% from iPhone loyalists.
There are a few glimmers of hope that under Tim Cook, Apple may gain more "prosocial" traction in the business than was ever contemplated during Steve Jobs' regime. The truth is, Apple has so many financial resources that there's a lot it could do for certain positive areas.
Apple is one of an impressive set of 300 large American companies that also include Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) and Ford (NYSE:F) involved in talking to the White House about ways alter some hiring factors that have probably hurt job seekers who ended up in more protracted unemployment.
The plan that's being batted around would establish some improved hiring practices, such as putting less negative emphasis on such job hunters. After years of high unemployment, it's simply common sense that those who have been unemployed for a long time aren't "duds."
Employment treatment is one of the major criticisms aimed at Apple's social side. The Foxconn controversies have underlined the worst of outsourced manufacturing. However, it's by no means the only American tech company that takes advantage of the cheap labor to boost profits.
I'm seeking positive returns in the Prosocial Portfolio. Years of bullishness have left us with very few bargain-priced stocks. That makes Apple even more appetizing right now.