Companies can make brilliant moves, but there are also times when things don't work out quite as planned. From Buffett stock buybacks to Google Maps missed opportunities, here's a rundown of this week's smartest moves and biggest blunders in the business world.
5 Winners and Losers of the Week in Business
Google (GOOG) finally updated its Google Maps application for Apple (AAPL) devices running on iOS 6. This could be seen as a winning move by the world's largest search engine, but let's dig a little deeper.
Apple suffered a rare embarrassment when it chose to replace Google Maps as its default mapping application when the iPhone 5 and iOS 6 updates hit the market. Apple's proprietary solution was widely ridiculed for its incomplete directions and warped satellite imagery.
Google could've made a statement by refusing to update its popular mapping application. It could've played hardball with Apple. It could've made Google Maps exclusive to Android, boosting its already dominant market share worldwide. Well, it didn't. Folks that upgraded to iOS 6 can now download Google Maps. It's a blown opportunity for Google to distance itself from the iEverything company.
Warren Buffett isn't a fan of buybacks, but his company is helping out the estate of a long-time shareholder by repurchasing $1.2 billion worth of stock.
One can argue that Buffett is being hypocritical. He became a vocal proponent of higher tax rates for the wealthy when he argued that he's paying a lower tax rate than his own secretary. Why is he helping a billionaire estate take advantage of attractive tax rates that will likely expire this month?
Well, it's still a smart thing for Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-A)(BRK-B) to do. Selling $1.2 billion worth of shares on the open market would've probably dealt the stock a blow. Buying back the stock -- and retiring the shares -- turns a problem into an opportunity. The estate can cash out, and the rest of Berkshire Hathaway's investors can enjoy the increased earnings on a per-share basis given the reduced share count.
Microsoft (MSFT) is letting its Surface take a walk on the wild side.
The world's largest software company began selling its Surface tablet through Best Buy (BBY), Staples (SPLS), and other third-party retailers on Wednesday. It wasn't planning on widening its distribution outside of its dedicated website and namesake stores until early next year.
This would seem to be a sign of success, but it isn't. In fact, one analyst followed the news by slashing his target on Surface sales for the current quarter. He went from expecting 2 million Surface tablets to be sold this holiday quarter to just 700,000 now.
Why isn't the market excited about Microsoft ramping up production to stock up new distributors? Well, it just seems desperate. It will also expose Surface. It's going to have a hard time selling when it's next to cheaper Android tablets or the app-rich iPad. And it may not be able to bounce back from that kind of failure.
Cable providers are going to great extents to keep subscribers from ripping up their chunky monthly bills.
Market leader Comcast (CMCSA)beefed up its Xfinity TV Player app this week, allowing subscribers to download certain TV shows and movies to watch when they don't have an online connection. This may not seem like such a big deal for smartphone owners, but it will come in handy to parents looking to entertain their kids with fresh content on their entry-level tablets or iPod touch devices.
Without a lot of fanfare, Starbucks (SBUX) started slashing prices of its Verismo brewers. The entry-level and high-end models are selling through Starbucks' website at 25% discounts for $149 and $299, respectively.
It doesn't matter if this is a temporary holiday promotion. Starbucks just introduced the single-cup espresso brewer three months ago. It can't be selling well if the java giant is resorting to dramatic markdowns. Maybe folks just don't care about making espresso at home. Maybe Starbucks got cocky by putting out an overpriced coffee maker that only brews a limited number of Starbucks pods.
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Motley Fool contributor Rick Aristotle Munarriz has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Best Buy, Berkshire Hathaway, Google, Microsoft, Starbucks, and Staples and has the following options: short JAN 2013 $47.00 puts on Starbucks. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Apple, Berkshire Hathaway, Google, Microsoft, and Starbucks.