NEW YORK (Reuters) - Apple Inc investors are shrugging off concerns raised by two shareholders about kids getting hooked on iPhones, saying that for now a little addiction might not be a bad thing for profits.
Hedge fund JANA Partners LLC and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) pension fund said on Saturday that iPhone overuse could be hurting children’s developing brains, an issue that may harm the company’s long-term market value.
But some investors said the habit-forming nature of gadgets and social media are one reason why companies like Apple, Google parent Alphabet Inc and Facebook Inc added $630 billion to their market value in 2017.
“We invest in things that are addictive,” said Apple shareholder Ross Gerber, chief executive of Gerber Kawasaki Wealth and Investment Management.
He also owns stock in coffee retailer Starbucks Corp, casino-runner MGM Resorts International and alcohol-maker Constellation Brands Inc.
“Addictive things are very profitable,” Gerber added.
Still, the investment community is increasingly holding companies to higher social standards, and there is some concern that market-leading tech companies could draw attention from regulators much like alcohol, tobacco and gambling companies have in the past.
Apple, Alphabet and Facebook could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday, but Facebook has said social media can be beneficial if used appropriately.
Apple shares traded marginally lower on Monday. CalSTRS holds $1.9 billion in Apple stock, a sliver of the company’s nearly $900 billion market value, while JANA declined to disclose the size of its smaller stake.
“Before Apple speaks, I think it’s too early to change the narrative” for investors, said Peter Jones, vice president of research for Ferguson Wellman Capital Management, which has about 350,000 Apple shares.
Social media companies, not hardware makers, are more deserving of any addiction-related scrutiny, some said.
Jordan Waldrep, who invests in alcohol, tobacco and gambling stocks as manager of the USA Mutuals Vice Fund, said blaming Apple for their customer’s addiction was analogous to blaming makers of cigarette packs instead of tobacco companies.
“The social media, the cigarettes, are the addictive product,” he said. Waldrep’s Vice fund does not own Apple but he said he would consider including social-media companies.
Kim Forrest, senior portfolio manager and vice president at Fort Pitt Capital Group, agreed that companies like Facebook, Twitter Inc and Snap Inc might be more at risk than Apple if investors and regulators push back on how much time people spend on mobile devices.
“Apple is just the delivery device,” said Forrest, who said Fort Pitt has limited Apple holdings. “It’s only compelling with software. Software is the dopamine releaser that keeps you coming back.”
Twitter declined to comment and Snap could not immediately be reached.