Today: Apple (AAPL) drops 5 percent as investors disappointed by lack of a truly low-cost smartphone, while Facebook completes its comeback and hits $45 for first time since its 2012 IPO. Also, Fremont's Synnex skyrockets after IBM deal and Pandora names a new CEO.
The lead: Apple plunges as Facebook surpasses milestone
It was a tale of two stock prices Wednesday, as Facebook completed a months-long comeback from the depths to reach a new all-time high, while Apple, the company that once could seemingly do no wrong, tumbled another 5.4 percent a day after its new iPhone models failed to impress. Combined with Tuesday's decline of more than 2 percent, Apple has lost nearly $35 billion in market value in the past two days.
It took a year and a half, but Facebook finally topped its all-time high share price, first set on the day of its much-ballyhooed IPO. Shares peaked at $45.09 Wednesday, before closing at an all-time-best $45.05, up 3.33 percent on the day.
The Menlo Park social media giant previously hit $45 a share during midday trading on May 18, 2012. The largest tech IPO in history then went bust, with shares going on a rapid slide, bottoming out below $18 a share last fall. But shares have rallied 70 percent since Facebook's earnings report in July, in which it surprised analysts by reporting huge gains in mobile ad sales. Mobile accounted for 41 percent of Facebook's total ad sales last quarter, compared to zero a year before.
"There's growing recognition that, 'Hey, this is not just a fad -- it's not going away, it's becoming ingrained in people's lives,'" Martin Pyykkonen, an analyst at Wedge Partners, told Bloomberg News. "Their ads are becoming more effective. Advertisers are finding that's a very attractive place to target."
Now the Facebook bandwagon is growing crowded, as increasingly optimistic investors are being joined by Wall Street experts; according to the Los Angeles Times, 30 of 32 analysts who cover the company now give it a "buy" rating.
Apple, meanwhile, continued to make analysts shake their heads. In unveiling two new iPhone models at a media event in Cupertino on Tuesday, the tech giant delivered neither the new "wow" gadget experts had hoped for nor the low-cost smartphone that experts had expected to help it compete in developing markets.
At a puzzling media event in Beijing on Wednesday, Apple announced it had received a license that would allow its iPhones to work on China Mobile's network, but there was no mention of a much-rumored partnership with the world's biggest mobile carrier. That was hardly the only disappointing news for Chinese consumers. The new iPhone 5C -- touted as a low-cost smartphone in the U.S. -- will start at more than $700 in China, due to the lack of carriers' subsidies. That's more than the average monthly income in urban China, Reuters reports, and will make it next to impossible for Apple to compete with mass-market Android phones, which can sell for as low as $100.
"It's not cheap enough," Tucker Grinnan, an analyst with HSBC Holdings, told Bloomberg News. "We are disappointed with the price point. It is a high-end phone in China."
In the U.S., at least four analysts downgraded their rating of Apple on Wednesday morning. Others were vocal in their disappointment: "We worry that Apple's inability/unwillingness to come out with a low-priced offering for emerging markets nearly ensures that the company will continue to be an overall share loser in the smartphone market until it chooses to address the low end," said Toni Sacconaghi of BernsteinResearch, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott, told Reuters: "This was less than expected from a company that has a reputation for surprising with a killer product or strategy."
Credit Suisse analyst Kulbinder Garcha expects Apple's smartphone market share to fall to 13.1 percent next year, down from 18.1 percent in 2012, according to Reuters. The premium smartphone market "is not forecast to see meaningful growth long term," he said. "This decision, at the margin, is good for profitability but not growth."
Whether Apple is out of new ideas and content to spin its wheels, or if it is simply the victim of its own track record of innovation and high expectations, it's looking likely that Apple's recent stock funk is far from over. Apple has plummeted from its all-time high of $705.07 last October, falling as far as $385.10 earlier this year. Until it presents a clear vision or a new must-have gadget (like it did in the past decade with the iPhone, iPod and iPad), expect its doldrums to continue.
Apple shares fell $26.81 on Wednesday, down 5.42 percent, to close at $467.83.
SV150 market roundup: Synnex shares skyrocket, Pandora names new CEO
The Dow Jones industrial average and Standard & Poor's 500 gained slightly Wednesday, but Apple's drop hurt tech stocks. The tech-heavy Nasdaq dipped 0.11 percent, and the SV150 index of Silicon Valley's biggest companies dropped by 0.84 percent.
The big mover in Silicon Valley was Fremont-based Synnex, which Tuesday acquired IBM's customer-care outsourcing unit for $505 million. Synnex shares surged more than 20 percent Wednesday, or $9.62, closing at $57.59. The purchase is expected to add about $120 million to Synnex earnings in its first year, according to a statement from the company.
Also, Mountain View Internet giant Google (GOOG) and Santa Clara chipmaker Intel (INTC) announced a partnership Wednesday for new Chromebooks, which will run Intel's powerful new Haswell processor. The new laptops will be built by Palo Alto-based Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), Acer, Toshiba and Asus and should hit store shelves by the Christmas shopping season. Google shares rose 0.85 percent, while Intel slipped 0.67 percent. HP was unchanged.
Pandora, the Oakland-based Internet radio service, named Brian McAndrews its president and CEO on Wednesday. McAndrews, a former vice president at Microsoft and partner at Madrona Venture Group who has extensive experience in digital advertising, succeeds Joe Kennedy, who announced his retirement in March.
"We had very specific criteria for our new CEO, and we were very strategic about finding the right person -- Brian is that person," Tim Westergren, Pandora's founder and chief strategy officer, said in a statement. "No one better understands the intersection of technology and advertising."
"It is a great privilege to be asked to lead Pandora at this important moment in the company's history," McAndrews said in a statement. "I look forward to joining this great team to build on Pandora's success for years to come."
Pandora is the seventh SV150 company to get a new CEO this quarter, joining Twitter, Polycom, Juniper, IDT, Solta Medical and Applied Materials.
Investors seemed to welcome McAndews' addition; Pandora shares rose 5 percent during trading Wednesday, closing up $1.03 to $21.38, and were rallying even more after hours. As of 3:30 p.m. PDT, Pandora was up another $1.63, or $7.62 percent.
Down: Apple, Intel, VMware, Yahoo, Zynga, Tesla
The SV150 index of Silicon Valley's largest tech companies: Down 11.19, or 0.84 percent, to 1,322.79
The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index: Down 4.01 , or 0.11 percent, to 3,725.01.
The blue chip Dow Jones industrial average: Up 135.54 or 0.89 percent, to 15,326.60.
And the widely watched Standard & Poor's 500 index: Up 5.14, or 0.31 percent, to 1,689.13.
Check in weekday afternoons for the 60-Second Business Break, a summary of news from Mercury News staff writers, The Associated Press, Bloomberg News and other wire services. Follow Mike Murphy on Twitter at @mmmmurf.