Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Michael Harkin's Speech at Grant's Conference

My last idea also brings me round again to Anatoly Rybakov, who claimed whenever you wanted to hide something from the KGB it was best to leave it face up on the center of your desk. The neighbors would never think to look there. At this odd moment in capitalism, so much value is lying in plain sight, and we think Google is an example. Google makes more money than all the other internet companies Value Line lists in its internet section combined. The internet has been a remarkable destroyer of business models, but not much of a profit generator. Google steps in to that void. Google has $32 billion in cash on hand, which they got the right way. They didn’t borrow it, they have no debt, they didn’t sell something and the cash is the residue, it isn’t lying around from the IPO. This $147 per share is money that they made, and in only 9 years and a bit as a public company. Now I know there’s been some writing in the New York Times that maybe we should give the cash lying around at tech companies some kind of discount, perhaps because it’s not all in dollars and parked in a U.S. bank, or because it hasn’t been all taxed at American rates. But I would like to pose a question to the Timesmen. If you don’t like cash and the rapid accumulation of more if it, what is it you do like about business? This is silly quibbling from the Times, and if you subtract out the $150 in cash per share, and they earn the $31 a share or more I think they will, you just bought yourself a great inflation hedge at effectively 13 times earnings. And look at that record. Buffett and Munger went on and on at last year’s Woodstock about what a moat Google had, and while we’ll note Microsoft’s Bing has made some inroads, it still is hard to compete with these guys. I don’t know what new act in tights Google will come up with next, although last week’s news articles about how Google is looking to nurture old media content providers by stuffing pillows over their heads left me somewhat perplexed. I’m no great seer in this regard, but do you spend your days like me toggling back and forth between the Google page and the Bloomberg machine? This is nothing like insider knowledge, but can you imagine a morning when Larry Page gets out of bed and says, “I wonder if there is anything more in the financial space for us to do?” About two hours later Bloomberg will look like the Quotron machine did twenty years ago. The Bloomberg is some piece of expensive, archaic, annoying architecture, that looks ripe for the taking, and it would move the needle, at least for a year or two, even at mighty Google.

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