Unbeknownst to me (I had to be told), Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) has enjoyed an incredible rise on Wall Street, briefly reaching a valuation of $600 billion and a stock price above $600. A lot of factors contributed to this phenomenon, foremost among which is consumer passion for Apple's line of iProducts.
However, since Apple cracked the $600 billion barrier in early April, the numbers have slipped. As I write, Apple is worth a still rather awesome $544 billion. Stock is selling around $582. Time to panic? Hardly. Wise analysts are treating those spectacular April Fool's numbers as a sort of bubble; a market-wide infatuation once described by former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan as "irrational exuberance." Indeed, even at $570 a share, Apple stock might be -- in a rational market -- overvalued. It could also be undervalued depending upon whom you ask.
My view is that all the exuberance and overvaluation attached to Apple cannot be fully explained without adding in the Steve Jobs Factor. Remember that when Jobs died last October, he was uplifted -- by almost universal acclamation -- into a sort of secular saint. Even members of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, who reflexively revile the corporate chiefs of multinational companies, paused at their keyboards to render Jobs his moment of silence. He had, after all, bestowed upon them their laptop Macs, their smartphones, and their own personal music plugged directly into their brains.
For a while, the only person I knew who expressed any skepticism about the divinity of Steve Jobs was me. Listening to the barrage of schmaltzy eulogies on both Fox News and MSNBC (usually mortal enemies), I wondered: But isn't this the same Steve Jobs who refused to manufacture his American-invented products in America, but instead outsourced his Macs and iPads to sweatshops in Shenzhen, where workers get pennies per hour, work 12- to 16-hour shifts, and disappear, shattered and disillusioned, at age 24?
I also asked, hey, isn't this the Steve Jobs who, after finagling the cheapest labor costs in consumer electronics, charged the highest mark-up in consumer electronics? If Jobs is a saint, I asked rhetorically, who canonized him? The Almighty Dollar?
Of course, nobody listens to me. But lately, some misgivings about the mythology of Steve Jobs have popped up elsewhere. Gradually but inexorably, the creator of Apple is shrinking back to human scale. His stock will surely follow.
Let's remember that, notwithstanding the beautiful, user-friendly products, Jobs's charisma -- his media-friendly personal style -- was a big "secret" to Apple's success. Now that his Teflon surface has been buried with him, more commentators will feel free to note Apple's record, under Jobs, of anti-unionism, its outsourcing, its hostility to the open-source community. They'll also rediscover Jobs's domineering workstyle, his dearth of compassion, his aloofness, even from his own family, and the egomania that once resulted in the near-collapse of the Apple empire.
By all means, fellow analysts, seek out and dissect the many factors that contribute both to Apple's brilliant spring and subsequent slippage -- whenever this becomes more obvious. But do not neglect, in your computations, a cautionary algorithm that has preceded the decline of virtually every empire in history: The King is dead.