The Mobile Marketer

Mobile is becoming not only the new digital hub but also the bridge to the physical world. That’s why mobile will affect more than just your digital operations — it will transform your entire business

The Recession’s Early Winners, you guessed it…Mobile.

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This recession is going to reshape America for generations, including the way we live and work. What will the future look like? Who will be the winners and losers?

Obviously you could make a lot of money if you guess right.

Historians note that many of the stocks which did best during the Great Depression were actually so-called “growth” companies, because they were the ones conquering the future. When a hurricane sweeps through a forest it knocks down a lot of the older, weaker trees. The younger ones survive and prosper. And so it may be in the economy.

It’s only six months into the crash, but the stock market is already starting to make some early calls. The market isn’t a perfect seer of the future, but it has a pretty good track record. And a few of the calls it’s making now are challenging the conventional wisdom.iphone-parallels1

IPhone nation lives. Shares in cellular companies tanked when the crisis first hit. Sprint crashed 85%. Apple fell by more than half. The conventional wisdom: Cellular contracts and fancy handhelds are very expensive. Even a $60 a month habit is costing you $720 a year. Desperate consumers would drop these plans, or scale back sharply, as they were forced to slash their household budgets.

So far? The market’s having a dramatic rethink. Shares in cellular companies have jumped about 40%, on average, from their November lows. During that time the rest of the market has gone nowhere. Sprint’s doubled from its distressed levels. Apple, Black Berry’s Research In Motion, even Palm have risen a long way.

The reason: Maybe post-crash America won’t junk its fancy handhelds after all. “We’ve learned this recession that wireless has become more of a necessity,” says analyst Tim Horan at Oppenheimer. “We haven’t seen a lot of people dropping their cellphone service.”

The daily latte may not be toast. Starbucks stock was another early victim of the crash. The shares collapsed. Everyone beat them up last fall, because an expensive latte habit is one of the easiest budget cuts a hard-pressed consumer can make.

The market’s rethinking this one, too. Starbucks stock has now jumped 55% from the lows. Sure, sales and profits are well down. But management is fighting back with cost savings and new initiatives. More than 750,000 people have signed up for Starbucks loyalty cards, triple what the company expected. (And that’s a wireless play too: They give you some free WiFi with your beverage.) The coffee shop has become an important part of many people’s day. Shares in rival coffee chain Peet’s are up about 10% too.

Dotcoms strike back! Shares in most regular retailers have slumped over the past six months, for obvious reasons. Expect more bricks and mortar stores to close as overstretched consumers retrench. But when it comes to online retailers, the story changes. Amazon stock, which tanked initially, has doubled since November. Hype over the Kindle electronic book reader has helped. Online jeweler Blue Nile has also bounced. And look at Netflix – its stock just hit a record high, surging over $40 for the first time. The Internet-based movie rental company is one of the big winners of the recession so far, as consumers stay home and order in movies. And it makes sense: A Netflix subscription, typically about $14 a month, is much cheaper than cable.

By Brett Arends Write at brett.arends@wsj.com

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