Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway upped its stake in tech king Apple 55% by the end of June. Plus, he said Thursday morning he just bought “a little more” Apple stock on top of what he added in June. Berkshire also just invested in One97 Communications, an Indian tech company whose flagship brand is Paytm, a mobile payments service. Berkshire invested $356 million, as part of One97’s latest capital raise. One97 is also backed by tech giants Alibaba, Ant Financial and SoftBank.
Buffett is legendary, in part, for his aptitude finding hidden value in the stock market, across sectors. He’s never been much involved in the hot — often overvalued and hard to understand — tech space.
So it’s interesting Buffett is making these tech investments as the sector has been in power-ahead mode. The tech-heavy Nasdaq’s price-to-earnings ratio is a heady 23.96 times, slightly elevated compared to historical averages. As for Apple (AAPL – Get Report), it’s stock is up more than 29% this year (spurred in part by Buffett’s investment), recently hit an all-time high, and became the first company to ever reach a $1 trillion market cap. Where’s the value in buying a stock like Apple at ever higher prices?
Buffett’s Apple Trade
Apple looks like a value play right now, believe it or not. “Apple is fairly valued, especially compared with other guys like Amazon (AMZN – Get Report),” Jun Zhang, analyst at Rosenblatt Securities told TheStreet. Indeed, Apple is currently trading at 19.35 times trailing-twelve month earnings, well below the broader tech space. In fact, Zhang thinks there’s “less risk owning Apple,” as “the long-term guys are not wanting to reduce their position.”
“Apple is still somewhat cheap because it has incredible cash flow,” Josh Blechman, Director of Capital Markets at Exponential ETF’s explained to TheStreet. “It can be a $1 trillion company that is not necessarily that expensive.”
“Him [Buffett] continuing to hold that investment does say something about what he thinks of their forward-looking position,” Blechman said.
Zhang noted that Apple’s profits are still growing on a year-over-year basis, mostly because of its now well-documented promise in services, as opposed to just hardware such as the iPhone. It’s not just the growth of the App Store that investors like Buffett are banking on, but also new services that are still closer to their infancies, like Apple Music and video content.
Some do worry that Apple is not highly competitive in content, which Zhang acknowledges, but it’s got one savings grace that could do it wonders in the content business.
“As long as they continue with the hardware ecosystem, Apple has some competitive edge,” Zhang said. Apple’s superior ecosystem on the iPhone gives them some competitive edge in getting users to buy Apple music and video content. And iPhone sales growth isn’t dead in the water, especially in emerging markets.
“They can fund diversified revenue streams,” Blechman said. “The expensive fixed costs are associated with getting the phones into the hands of consumers, but once that happens, Apple can focus on keeping Apple users moving through different services.”
“People are betting that India will be similar to China with mobile payment,” Zhang, who formerly covered Chinese mobile payment companies, said. India is migrating from a 3G network to 4G, which increases the penetration rate of smartphones, Zhang pointed out. “There’s a lot of attraction in the Indian mobile payments market,” he added.
All in all, Buffett’s plays on tech may prove right.
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