McNealy Out at Sun Micro

Shares of Sun Microsystems (SUNW) opened up more than 4% on Tuesday after CEO Scott McNealy announced his resignation last night. There is little doubt that new blood at the helm of the once high flying tech company is a good step for the company, but is SUNW stock a good buy?

Despite a huge cash hoard, the SUNW shares have been stagnant as financial results have left much to be desired. The main thing holding back the stock has been a lack of profits. The company’s cost structure is so bloated that even with billions in revenue, they aren’t making a dime. The strong balance sheet, coupled with an attractive price-to-sales ratio has gotten many value investors to bite in recent years, but they have little in the way of profit to show for it.

Without profits, investors can’t assign a multiple to earnings. Even if the company were able to swing earnings of 10 or 20 cents per share, the stock doesn’t look cheap. A 16 or 18 P/E on even $0.25 of EPS and you get a share price lower than it is today. It is possible that a new CEO can turn the company around, but until consistent profitability is demonstrated, Sun Micro shares will be laggards.

Apple Shares Surge on Windows News

With Apple (AAPL) garnering only 3 percent of the U.S. personal computer market in 2005, it’s not hard to see why the company’s shares are surging 7 percent today. With news of a software program allowing users to run Windows XP on Macs released this morning, all of the sudden the company can go after much of that other 97 percent. Apple’s design team certainly has a unique opportunity here. I don’t see why they couldn’t get 10% of the U.S. market within 5 years with the right new products.

Google Beats Me to the Punch

Just as I was readying a blog posting concerning the $50 jump in Google (GOOG) shares since news hit last week that the Internet search giant would be added to the S&P 500, the company beats me to the punch. I was going to point out that the more than 15 percent jump in Google stock was based solely on index fund buying, and therefore upward pressure would likely dry up next week. I was even considering a small short trade in my personal account. Looks like Google beat me to the “sell” button.

Wednesday afternoon we hear that they plan to sell 5.3 million shares of stock, in part to accommodate index fund demand. Don’t let this announcement fool you. These Google guys (and gals) are very smart. What better time to announce a big share offering than right after your stock has moved up more than 50 points without any fundamental change in business prospects?

Whether the offering halts the S&P 500 related rise or not we’ll just have to wait and see, but don’t think for a second this announcement is coming out of the goodness of Google’s heart to help some index fund managers out with extra shares. They’re just looking to cash in on the S&P 500 inclusion like everybody else.

An Apple To-Day?

I’ve been out of Apple (AAPL) stock for the entire run over the last couple of years. I looked at it many times back then given its insanely low valuation but never liked the business. They had half the market cap in cash on hand with no debt, but I never could figure out what the catalyst might be.

Then the iPod happened and the run began. Two years later the stock is 600% higher, hitting a high of $86 in early 2006. I haven’t chased the stock on the way up, but for the first time in a long time AAPL shares appear reasonably priced. In case you haven’t noticed, the stock is down 30% from its high to a current $60 per share.

Current earnings estimates stand at $2.25 for 2006 and $2.75 for 2007. With $10 per share in cash and no debt, investors are getting the business for 22x current year profits. Looking out to 2007 the P/E drops to 18x. If any of you are out there wishing you hadn’t missed the run, the stock is down 26 points from its high and looks appealing if you think growth will continue for some time.

Intel vs AMD

Since a reader brought up Intel (INTC) in a comment on my prior post, I decided to take a closer look at the history of the Intel vs Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) battle. It seems to me that whenever AMD was successful taking share from Intel, and the stock price outperformed, it was a short-lived phenomenon. The chart below comparing Intel and AMD since 1998 does a great job showing visually the cycle I referred to in response to Simon’s comment in my prior post.

AMD taking share from Intel, and the resulting stock price rally, is something have happens fairly regularly. However, the chart shows that when AMD takes off it rarely can maintain the business momentum (due mainly to Intel’s high responsiveness to such events), and when optimistic profit estimates aren’t reached, the stock comes tumbling back down to earth. Could history repeat itself? I tend to think it will, although the timing will not be easy to pinpoint.

Vonage Files for $250M IPO

Phone service upstart Vonage Holdings has filed initial paperwork with the SEC, the first step toward a possible IPO that aims to raise up to $250 million. Given the recent appetite investors have had for well-known consumer-related initial public offerings (Chipotle, Under Armour, to name a couple), the timing of this filing makes sense from the corporate perspective.

So, does the stock make for a good investment? Should the IPO come to fruition, we’ll likely see a huge first day spike, allowing all of the investment banks’ best clients to make a bundle. However, a closer look at Vonage’s financials shows that any after-market valuation might be too high. For the first nine months of 2005, Vonage lost $190 million on sales of $174 million. Marketing costs totaled $176 million, a staggering figure.

IPO proceeds would undoubtedly go toward more marketing. While Vonage does have 1.4 million customers, how much are they actually worth? The Vonage service is a commodity, offering no differentiation from Comcast’s service or anyone elses. Vonage is under cutting the competition on price ($24.95 for unlimited long distance calling to the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico) but there is no reason to think larger players won’t attack that advantage in the future, and company’s like Skype are focusing on free consumer voice services.

Much like other data and voice services, more competitors will enter the market, pushing prices down. Without a differentiated product offering, Vonage shares will likely be overpriced by retail investors should the IPO go smoothly.

Google and Wall Street Finally Converge

After picking up some Google (GOOG) shares yesterday afternoon as the stock plummeted from $430 to $350 on word of their disappointing earnings report, I just sold those shares, and all others I own for myself and for my clients, at $400 per share. Think of it as wanting to go out on top after a great trade.

The case can be made that Google should be held at current levels. Inclusion in the S&P 500 will be upcoming, and word is that the company will be announcing several large distribution deals with large, popular content providers in coming months. There will be positive catalysts after last night’s shocker.

After all, if Google gave quarterly guidance like other firms, investors and analysts would not have been surprised with a headline EPS number of $1.54 per share for Q4, because they would have known where tax rates were going to be. The business is still solid, taking market share and expanding into new areas. Last night’s report did not show that fundamentals have deterioriated. Rather, growth is simply slowing down due to the law of large numbers. That is the bullish case.

However, these are not the reasons I have owned the stock since $170 per share. The “value” I saw had to do with the fact that the Street didn’t fully understand what the earnings power of the company’s search franchise was. If investors knew Google could earn $8 or $9 in 2006, their IPO in August 2004 would never have been priced at $85.

Last night’s report showed me that Wall Street is no longer underestimating Google’s growth outlook. Earnings, adjusted for the tax rate increase, were a few cents above consensus, but below the highest printed estimate. Revenue came in right at the estimate. Upside from domestic search appears limited from here.

Does that mean the stock is done going up? Not necessarily. Google is investing huge amounts of money in international operations and new products outside of core search. The potential is huge, and they have the money, the people, and the momentum to conquer new markets. The next task for Google is to monetize these other products. Can they make decent money with Gmail, Google Video, Google Earth, Google China, Google Images, and the many other areas we are speculating they will enter?

Nobody knows for sure. Bulls on the stock believe they can. However, just because they are in position to do so does not mean they will. If they can monetize these product lines, growth will continue and the stock could very well go a lot higher. However, it is not as clear to me that this will happen, at least not as clear as it was that GOOG was too cheap at $170 per share.

Google is trading at 45 times this year’s projected earnings. The issues the company addressed last night (growth deceleration in search and massive spending on international markets) could very well result in more earnings disappointments in the near term.

The risk-reward outlook seems to be less compelling to me today. Maybe that will change in the future if we get another quarter or two of disappointing earnings, or if other product lines boom, but right now I’m content with selling at $400 and seeing how it all plays out.

Google Drops $80 in After Hours Trading

The headline numbers at Google (GOOG) were $1.29B in sales and $1.54 EPS, versus expectations of $1.29B and $1.76. The stock just opened down $80 to $350 in the extended hours session. The reason for the EPS miss was a higher tax rate (41.8%) than what most people expected (26%-30%). Had the rate been in-line with estimates, EPS would have beat consensus by a few cents. The company said it expects a 30% tax rate in 2006, so it could be a one-time hiccup and not that big of a deal. I am going long a little stock into the conference call, thinking that the initial reaction might be too violent to the downside after we hear what they have to say. It should be interesting.

Friday Tech Talk


It appears the days of Peridot owning shares of Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) may be coming to a close. Rumors have been swirling in recent weeks that the company is up for sale, with a long list of private equity firms in on the bidding process. Reports have pegged potential price tags in the range of $62 to $65 per share.

While a deal seems likely, I am really hoping to get close to $65, as my fair value calculation nets a $66 price objective. Since rumors have been out there, but no deal is in place, ACS has drifted down a couple of points to its current $60 quote.

For short term players looking to make a few points on the announcement, a deal could be announced as early as Monday, and I would speculate that the odds of one falling apart completely are no more than 25%. Even if no buyer emerges, ACS stock trades 10% below what I think it’s ultimately going to be worth later this year.


I was selling shares of Network Appliance (NTAP) into yesterday’s strength as the shares jumped as much as $4 (13%) to $34.49 per share. Evidently, rumors of an IBM (IBM) buyout offer were swirling, which led to an upside breakout.

Even though I am very bullish on NTAP’s business prospects, and an IBM bid could very well send the stock even higher, I don’t think the odds of a buyout are very high. On top of that, with the stock at $34 per share, it’s hard for me to justify much upside to the stock without such a deal.

Estimates for 2006 currently stand at about $0.85 per share. That’s a very high multiple, even with the company’s 25% growth rate and solid balance sheet. For me, the risk/reward trade-off at these lofty levels has lost its luster, at least for now.