Is Apple's Epic Run Over? Analyzing the Company's Hidden Cost Advantages


On Sept. 21, the iPhone 5 was launched and met by the usual fanfare accompanying an Apple product launch. Lines went around the block, long waiting times became the norm online, and stores quickly sold out of every phone.

By all indications, the iPhone 5 launch was a huge hit for the company. Apple redesigned its phone for the first time since 2010, unleashing a massive upgrade cycle into a booming smartphone market. In the third quarter, smartphone sales grew 47%, a growth rate that would make almost every industry in the world envious. It looked as though the iPhone 5 was set to lead Apple to major gains and a record holiday season.

However, after reaching its peak on Sept. 21, Apple's stock began sliding. It slid for weeks, eventually bottoming out at $505.75 on Nov. 16, a drop of 28% from its peak. Today, Apple is once again testing those lows after heavy losses at the tail end of last week.

We've created a brand-new report titled "Is Apple's Epic Run Over?" that gives investors a comprehensive look at Apple. It answers whether the bears are right -- or if Apple has huge advantages investors are overlooking. Below is a sample section of the report that focuses on Apple and its hidden cost advantages compared to competitors.We hope you enjoy this preview content from our premium Apple report.

We'll advertise for you: Apple and SG&A
Take a look at the selling, general, and administrative expenses of selected companies:


Percent of Sales









Research In Motion










Source: S&P Capital IQ. All values for the last 12 months as of Dec. 1, 2012.

The amazing part of the chart above is that both Lenovo and Dell are heavily into the PC business, making a product with razor-thin margins that requires as much efficiency and cost-savings as possible, and Apple's SG&A spending is tremendously more efficient than either company's! Imagine if Tiffany had lower overhead costs than Wal-Mart, a rock-bottom discounter. That's not too unlike the situation we're seeing with "high-end" Apple and its competitors.

(And for the record, SG&A takes 39% of Tiffany sales and 19% of Wal-Mart sales.)

Apple keeps down its SG&A in a number of ways. For example, while Apple's products appear across television and its advertisements are immediately recognizable, it only spends $1 billion a year on advertising, significantly less than Microsoft or Samsung. A huge part of the success is in areas like product placement and media buzz. When Bing released its most-searched-for news stories this year, the iPhone 5 came in No. 1, beating out the Presidential election. All the buzz around the iPhone 5's launch was free advertising. Then there's promotion in areas like TV and film, where Apple doesn't pay for product placement, but still receives plenty of it.

According to Nielsen, Apple devices appeared in 891 TV shows in 2011. Brandchannel, a company which tracks product placements, found that Apple products appeared in 40% of films that hit No. 1 at the box office in 2011.

What's the value of this kind of product placement? Measuring the intangible value in brand building is far from a science, but Front Row Analytics, a company which specializes in valuation of product placements, estimated that Apple's five minutes of screen time in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol were worth $23.5 million alone.

An especially important note here is that movies are global, just as Apple's reach is global.Ghost Protocol saw 70% of its global box office of $694 million come from foreign markets. The movie made $101 million in China alone, which is Apple's second-largest market. As we'll discuss more later in the report, with the iPhone often being an aspirational product (or status symbol) in foreign markets, its use at the center of cinema only heightens its perception as a premium device. Brandchannel estimates that one Chinese film, What Women Want (a remake of The Devil Wears Prada), prominently featured an Apple product every third scene.

Comparing Apple advertising to other companies shows the astounding economics of Apple's advertising machine.


Advertising Spend

Interbrand -- Value of Brand


$1 billion

$76.6 billion


$1.6 billion

$57.9 billion


$2.6 billion

$32.9 billion


$4.1 billion

$8.0 billion

Source: S&P Capital IQ. Values are from most recently reported fiscal year.

The other part of this equation is that pure reported advertising spend is only a portion of the spend that goes into general selling and brand building. For example, Anheuser-Busch InBev is one of the world's largest ad buyers but doesn't report advertising spend, instead listing sales and marketing expenses of $5.1 billion.

Using a more expanded look at sales and marketing, Microsoft's total sales and marketing expense came in at $13.9 billion, higher than Apple's entire SG&A expense. The totals above also don't show the $4 billion Samsung had to shell out last year for "sales promotions," an indirect advertising cost used to gain more channel promotion on carriers like AT&T and Verizon.

Finally, we come to employee costs. While Apple employs 72,800 employees, 42,400 of those are retail workers, which leaves 30,400 non-retail employees. Compare that to Microsoft, which employs 94,000 full-time employees, and has been estimated to employ 80,000 vendors and agency temps. Apple employs only 3,300 "full-time equivalent" temporary workers.

Bottom line
Apple's advantages in SG&A are the result of its unique traits. Its focus on a smaller group of product lines helps keep employee counts well below its peers in big tech, which helps keep employee expenses down. Also, it has some of the world's most effective advertising despite spending significantly less than competitors.

These factors combine to give Apple a 6-10 percentage point advantage in its SG&A cost structure over competitors. If Apple's SG&A rose to 12% of sales -- a number still below most peers' expenses -- it would have the effect of shaving off about $6.55 billion in profits a year. With Apple trading at slightly north of 13 times earnings, that could cut about $86 billion off Apple's current market cap, or 16% of its total value.

Get the full report
We hope you enjoyed this sample of The Motley Fool's newest report on Apple. The report is authored by senior technology analyst Eric Bleeker, and offers a comprehensive analysis diving into what's causing Apple's sell-off -- and whether the company is poised to bounce back. To get instant access to his latest thinking on Apple, simply click here now.

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Eric Bleeker has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Ford, Google, Microsoft, and Tiffany. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Apple, Ford, Google, and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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