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Columns & Editorials

September 27th, 1999

[4:30 PM] Apple Stock Watch: Apple Falls Again On Negative Article From Barron's

With contrary commentary hitting Apple today, the stock fell again. Despite receiving a "buy" rating from Banc of America Sec, an increase from "Market Perform," a largely negative report from Barron's helped send Apple into negative territory while most of Apple's competition was involved in a rally. The Barron's article focused on Apple's long-term viability. Internet access, competition from cheap PCs, the lack of a strong presence in business, and many other factors are cited. According to Barron's: [Editor's Note: Barron's requires a subscription, but this story makes for good reading.]

By more or less abandoning the business market (except for high-end machines for corporate graphics pros), Jobs has caused many veteran technology stock pickers to steer clear of Apple's torrid shares.

Instead, playing the hand he was dealt in his first try as a turnaround specialist, Jobs has cleverly leveraged some of Apple's core assets -- including its fanatically loyal customers and superior operating system -- to right the ship. Specifically, he has concentrated on its strongest constituencies, schools and first-time users. But some tech-portfolio specialists wonder what Jobs will do for an encore to continue the current surge without going for a slice of the broader market -- namely, business customers.

"They do awfully well for a company with relatively small market share," says Walter Price Jr., a managing director of Dresdner RCM Global Investors in San Francisco.

"I think Steve gets it, but it will be interesting to see what his next trick will be. Turnarounds are hard," Price says.

"A neat trick would be for him to get out of the desktop and portable computer business altogether," retorts Landis.

That's not as ridiculous as it may seem, given that many people believe the PC business is hitting a major plateau. But it does run counter to what has been fueling Apple's renaissance. The popular introduction of Lifesaver-tinted iMac desktop computers and the promise of its clamshell-shaped iBook portable machines, which began shipping this month, certainly are what has been driving the comeback.

Still, in the long run -- say, a year or two from now -- it seems highly unlikely that Apple can continue to grow and flourish by catering mainly to the consumer market, contends Michael Murphy, publisher of the California Technology Stock Letter.

"Apple has become the worldwide leader in selling plastic," says Murphy, cynically referring to Apple's emphasis on design over function with its trendy iMacs and iBooks, which sell for about $1,199 and $1,599 respectively.

Apple closed at 61 5/16, a loss of 3 5/8 or 5.58%. Volume was again heavy with 8,465,900 shares trading hands. Though a slight decrease from the 10 million or shares that have traded for the last 3 trading sessions, it still represents a significantly larger volume than the 3-4 million that Apple normally sees traded.

Mac related companies fared well in a counter-note to Apple's as Symantec, Motorola, and Adobe all closed higher. PC companies also enjoyed a winning day with Intel, Microsoft, Dell, Gateway 2000, , and Compaq all closing higher. Hewlett-Packard and IBM both closed down.

The Dow and the Nasdaq both closed higher. The Dow closed at 10303.39, a rise of 24.06, while the Nasdaq closed at 2761.75, a gain of 21.34. Both indexes started off much higher, but saw their gains eroded as the day wore on.

For full quotes for all the companies mentioned in this article, we have assembled this set of quotes at Yahoo! for your reference. We also have these same quotes reported live (20 minute delay) on our home page. For other stories regarding Apple's stock activity, visit our Apple Stock Watch Special Report.

The Mac Observer Spin: The Barron's article did cast many of Apple's strengths in a positive light, but the conclusions tended to all be negative. It is our opinion that many of those conclusions rested on lingering misconceptions about the computer industry in general and Apple in particular. For instance, one person quoted in the article is Michael Murphy, publisher of the California Technology Stock Letter.

"Apple has become the worldwide leader in selling plastic," says Murphy, cynically referring to Apple's emphasis on design over function with its trendy iMacs and iBooks, which sell for about $1,199 and $1,599 respectively.

Murphy, who has been an Apple loyalist for more than a decade, says choices made by his small publishing and investment firm provide anecdotal evidence of how Apple is losing ground with sophisticated users.

"We've been an all-Mac shop for years, but we just bought new Dells. We threw in the towel," Murphy concedes. "At the high end, aside from graphics professionals, Apple is done."

The reality is that many former Mac shops who had switched to Wintel have since switched back as they found their experiences on Windows so appalling. We believe that Mr. Murphy's business is not the norm in this case. That said, it is certainly fair to say that Apple still has very little presence in the corporate world. Other aspects of the article do make good points, but we see Apple continuing its turnaround and solving the reamining problems that exist. Go read the article if you can as it is very well written.

[Editor's Note: Thanks to Steven Jay Weintraub for his invaluable help with this article.]


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