> CEO name (tenure): Tim Cook (less than 1 year)
> YTD stock: up 20%
> Latest quarter EPS: up 52% to $7.05
> Insider ownership: 5.5%
> Key event: launch of iPhone 4S, death of Steve Jobs
The death of Steve Jobs is the single most memorable event that happened at Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) this year. But it overshadows another period of remarkable results. Apple continued to grow at an extraordinary rate despite its size. In Apple’s fiscal year, which ended in September, revenue rose to $108 billion from $65 billion the year before. Net income rose from $14 billion to $26 billion. Days after it announced its fiscal numbers, Apple said it had sold 4 million of its flagship iPhone 4S in the first weekend it was available. Apple also became the most valuable public company in the U.S. at $361 billion during 2011, briefly surpassing Exxon Mobil (NYSE: XOM).
> CEO name (tenure): Jeff Bezos (17 years)
> YTD stock: up 8%
> Last quarter EPS: down 73% to $0.14
> Insider ownership: 19.7%
> Key event: launch of Kindle Fire
Jeff Bezos and company followed up the launch of the Kindle e-reader less than two years ago with the new Kindle Fire tablet PC. Most analysts believe it is the only tablet with a chance to challenge sales of the Apple iPad. The tens of millions of people who come to Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN) give the world’s largest e-commerce company an unprecedented audience for sales of the machine. Amazon said that Black Friday sales of the Kindle family of products rose four-fold compared to last year. Amazon’s Prime Instant Video business continued to grow as it cut a deal with FOX, which increased the total available titles for the service to 11,000. Amazon’s third-quarter sales rose 44% to $10.9 billion.
> CEO name (tenure): Leslie Moonves (8 years)
> YTD stock: up 37%
> Last quarter EPS: up 164% to $0.58
> Insider ownership: chairman Sumner Redstone owns 79.2% of controlling shares
> Key event: video streaming deal with Amazon
Both the shares and financial results of CBS (NYSE: CBS) continue to outpace those of other major media companies. The company’s flagship network still leads others in many critical prime time program spots with hits like “CSI,” as well as its NFL sports coverage. CBS recently won the critical November “sweeps” ratings for the 11th straight year, an important consideration for national advertisers. CBS has been aggressive at the local stations level, insisting on license fees for its programs that run on local cable networks. Perhaps as important as any other initiative, CBS has started to put its programming onto cable through deals with Amazon.com and Hulu.
4. Yum! Brands
> CEO name (tenure): David Novak (11 years)
> YTD stock: up 18%
> Last quarter EPS: up 8% to $0.80
> Insider ownership: 2.9%
> Key event: buys Little Sheep Food chain in China
Many restaurant industry analysts say the future of fast food is in China. The U.S. has begun to overflow with locations, and sales in Europe and Japan have slowed with the regional economies. Yum! Brands (NYSE: YUM) worked its way further into China — its largest growth market — with the purchase of local fast food chain “Little Sheep Food.” Yum’s Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise is the world’s largest. When it released Q3 numbers, the company said it would open 600 new stores in China by year-end. Yum has balanced its portfolio of brands that includes Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Taco Bell. It does not rely on any single one of these brands exclusively as McDonald’s (NYSE: MCD) must. Together, Yum’s brands have 36,000 locations worldwide, which rival McDonald’s total distribution network.
> CEO name (tenure): Steve Ballmer (11 years)
> YTD stock: down 8%
> Latest quarter EPS: up 10% to $.68
> Insider ownership: 10.42%
> Key event: buys VoIP giant Skype
Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) has been called the worst-run American company for several years because it has had little success in its attempts to diversity beyond the aging Windows families of products. In 2011, it began to break away from its reliance on those products with several launches and acquisitions. The most important of these was the buyout of worldwide VoIP leader Skype, which has 663 million registered users. The deal gives Microsoft a huge base to market Windows cloud-based products, Xbox and other entertainment products, as well as the company’s Bing search engine. Microsoft also gripped the only chance available to gain a large stake in the mobile operating system business. It set a deal with the world’s largest handset company, Nokia (NYSE: NOK), to ship Windows mobile software on most Nokia phones. Many analysts believe the partnership phones will come to the market too late. The same observation held true when Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) launched Android to compete with Apple. Microsoft is taking smart risks again and has the balance sheet to back them. On December 7, to delight of shareholders, the company announced it would be releasing Windows 8 in the second half of 2012.