Shane Obata is executive director of investments and portfolio manager with Middlefield Capital Corp.
The best firms tend to evolve over time.
Companies such as Apple Inc. and Google Inc. now house entire consumer ecosystems.
Apple has an installed base of nearly 1.5 billion devices, with consumers using its phones (iPhone), computers (Mac), tablets (iPad), wearables (Apple Watch & AirPods) and services (iCloud & Apple Music). Google has two platforms with more than two billion users (Android and YouTube) and another seven platforms with at least one billion (Chrome, Maps, Search, Play, Gmail, Drive and Photos).
These ecosystems are extremely valuable because they are integrated. Consumers will often use more than one product or service at a time, leading to higher brand loyalty. The other major advantage is that Apple and Google can test or deploy new ideas in their massive ecosystems, guaranteeing an audience and raising the probability of success
Streaming has changed the way we watch video.
It started with just Netflix. Now we have Disney+, Apple TV+ and Amazon’s Prime Video, among other offerings. Soon we will also have HBO Max. Competition has increased, raising the importance of media content.
We do not think that consumers will subscribe to every service. Even so, we do believe that multiple winners will emerge as streaming continues to take market share away from linear TV. Netflix has not only a massive content library but also a growing slate of highly regarded original TV series and movies, such as Stranger Things and The Irishman. In our view, Netflix provides the best value for consumers and will likely remain their primary streaming choice.
The music industry might not have survived without the advent of streaming. Revenues peaked in 1999 before turning sharply lower as file-sharing smashed CD sales. Nearly two decades later, streaming came along and revived the business. Now there are hundreds of millions of paying subscribers, generating sales for platforms, record labels, publishers and artists.
We are big fans of music streaming technologies. Even so, we have chosen to play this theme by investing in content through companies such as Sony, the parent company of the largest music publisher and second largest record company in the world. Outside of music, Sony also owns a portfolio of video game developers as well as a top five film/TV studio.
One of the most innovative areas within Technology is growth software. The world is moving faster than ever. As a result, businesses are investing in software to help them keep up with the demands of their customers. When a leading firm invests, others follow because they do not want to get left behind. This creates a virtuous cycle in which companies with specialized products can achieve high growth and high margins for longer than some would expect.
Zendesk Inc. is a great example. This company markets a software platform that aggregates communications across multiple channels, allowing for efficient tracking, prioritizing and solving of customer support tickets. Zendesk’s product family helps businesses to deliver better customer experiences and promote engagement through self service, phone calls, live chat and email. The company is also expanding its suite by offering new sales management tools.
The exponential growth in data makes data infrastructure a key investment theme.
We are already creating lots of data with our computers, phones and other gadgets. Soon we will generate significantly more after 5G enables new use cases such as connected vehicles, autonomous robotics and augmented reality. We anticipate that worldwide data creation will increase to 163 zettabytes by 2025. That would represent a 10-times increase over the amount produced in 2017. All of this will require more data infrastructure.
Equinix Inc. is one of our favorite players in the space. The company is a world-leading operator of reliable and secure data centers. Equinix’s state-of-the-art facilities are highly efficient and cost-effective. Moreover, its network of interconnected properties allows for the efficient exchange of data between strategic partners.
Healthcare is another sector using innovation to solve problems, specifically within the field of genomic medicine.
This area focuses on the use of genetic information to guide diagnostics and treatments. One example is gene editing, a type of engineering that is used to correct faulty DNA through insertion, deletion, modification or replacement of specific regions. These technologies are revolutionizing medicine. As a result, we expect the amount of financing and the number of applications to rise dramatically in the coming years.
CRISPR Therapeutics AG is a leader in this field. The company uses CCRISPR-Cas9 technology to edit cells and then return them, with the goal of completely curing rare blood disorders, such as sickle cell disease and beta thalassemia
Disclosure: Middlefield Capital owns all the recommended stocks in this article