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Sun 22 Jan 2006

Who's minding the store?

Category : Commentary/manningTheStore.txt

I'm reading the following in our local Lifestyle supplement in the Sunday Times, under the headline "Big Mac - the lure of Apple products is growing, with more authorised resellers popping up, thanks in part to the iPod" :

"Last Wednesday, US-based Apple announced its first quarter results - a net quarterly profit of US$565 million, nearly double the net profit of US$295 million it posted a year ago. Although analysts had expected higher returns, Apple's chief executive Steve Jobs called it the 'best quarter in Apple's history'."

It's the phrase: "Although analysts had expected higher returns". And this follows last Friday's headline : "Apple, eBay, outlooks disappoint".

Apple had a blow-out quarter and their outlook disappoints? And what did Apple Singapore do?

"Apple Computer South Asia here, Apple's local office, declined to comment for this story."

Phrases like "asleep at the wheel" and "like sheep to the slaughter" come to mind.

Now, all we Mac-heads know that "although analysts had expected higher returns" really refer to analysts' expectations for the next quarter. Though they've been beating expectations eight quarters in a row, Apple still felt it prudent to guide expectations lower. Even I know that February has three less selling days than January or December, and I should expect correspondingly 10% less sales, all things being equal. And there are other factors for Apple, like December having been a holiday selling season and, in January, by contrast, the Mactels would have just ramped up production, resulting in supplies being contrained and fewer sales being made.

It's all about Apple being prudent, rather than Apple doing badly (disappointing no less), which would be the impression you're left with, if you'd only just scan the headlines or read the newspapers. Yet the truth is, Apple's doing fantastically well, so much so that analysts are being forced to revisit the "proprietary architecture" argument which, if the scales drop from people's eyes, may trigger a large shift in buying patterns (which would be the real story behind the story).

The point is, it may take some serious work to correct a mis-perception, intended or otherwise, in the media - e.g., making the contacts and, gently but firmly, persuading people about the validity of your point of view. But, in this game, perception is everything. You can bet that other companies like Microsoft and HP take these things seriously. It may be no accident that, in one quarter a few months back, when HP drowned in red ink, they had one little glimmer of hope in the results. Yet it was that fact that had made it to the headline. Apple's case is always the reverse. I've made it a game to predict the headlines. And, sadly, I think I'm often right. Somehow, knowing how slack and devoid of passion or belief those people at Apple's local office to be, I thought I shouldn't be surprised to see that one dark cloud picked up in something like that "Apple outlooks disappoint" headline. There's nobody exerting a countervailing influence.

Macs sell on their own, despite all that. But, then, they really should be doing twice as well. Cupertino may be too far away and Steve Jobs hates to travel. Who's watching all these guys?

Posted at 12:07PM UTC | permalink


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