The Macalope Daily: Ill architectural portents

Reacting to the news that Apple wants to build a circular headquarters building that will house 12,000 employees, the Motley Fool’s Cindy Johnson says such monuments are a sign…of doom! Well, you have to admit, throwing bones and reading tea leaves is a lot easier than doing the hard work of analyzing a company’s fundamentals.

Johnson’s tone is straight out of Samuel Taylor Coleridge:

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree

Here's Johnson:

There’s a rule of thumb on Wall Street: When a company starts building spectacular facilities, it’s an ominous sign for investors.

An ominous sign to superstitious investors who believe investments are best made when based on shamanism and astrology.

Johnson lists three companies—EDS, Silicon Graphics and Sun—that built big corporate campuses before falling on hard times and getting acquired.

There’s a disturbing pattern here.

Disturbingly irrelevant.

I’m not suggesting that Apple is an acquisition target, particularly given its $66 billion cash stash and its position as the largest IT company.

Well, that’s good, because that would be monumentally stupid. Unfortunately, the fact that you have to point out that you’re not saying it is a sign of just how cuckoo bananas your argument is.

The commenters on the post came up with several counter-examples, such as the Chrysler Building, Sears Tower and, more apropos, the Pixar headquarters. The Macalope understands Microsoft has a pretty big campus, too, and Amazon also has a nice new headquarters. Sadly, both doomed, apparently.

Of course, the real downfall of Johnson’s argument is the simple truism that any good analyst would know: Past performance is not an indication of future results.

In Johnson’s defense, the Motley Fool’s tag line is “To educate, amuse and enrich.” Maybe this is supposed to be the “amuse” part. If only it were, well, amusing.

I think the stock probably has at least several good years left, but this development looks like a negative milestone—and an early warning—for Apple investors.

Pay no attention to the gobs of cash the company has on hand. Pay no attention to the quarter after quarter of increasing sales and margins other companies can only dream of. Instead, let’s focus on the size of the building the company’s proposing and apply simplistic platitudes about how pride goeth before a fall.

This is not rational analysis. This is voodoo. It’s this kind of tarot-card reading masquerading as analysis that gives the financial press a bad name.

[Editors’ Note: In addition to being a mythical beast, the Macalope is not an employee of Macworld. As a result, the Macalope is always free to criticize any media organization. Even ours.]

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