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2012Mar26 Life without Apple?

Everyone here has the sense that right now is one of

 those moments when we are influencing the future.

Steve Jobs

Apple:

Trying to analyze the market sans-Apple is a growing sport, given the outsize role the company has in every category in which it resides.

In the above link there's a fun chart from BarCap, looking at the trajectory of tech sector earnings over the last year with and without Apple. Without Apple, tech sector earnings have actually been in decline since Spring 2011.

Of course, you can never perfectly remove Apple, since Apple takes earnings away from other companies. Presumably, a fair number of their competitors would be more profitable if Apple ceased to exist.

Taxes:

Unless Congress takes action, the top tax rate for the highest earners on most dividends, currently 15%, is set to jump to a whopping 43.4% next year. That is a maximum income-tax rate of 39.6% -- since dividends will once again be taxed as regular income -- plus a 3.8% tax on investment income as part of the health-care overhaul passed in 2009.

Apple's new dividend payments of $2.65 each quarter, set to begin July 1, give it a yield of 1.8%, calculated against its current stock price.

Apple is hardly alone in bowing to growing investor demand for yield. Last year brought a record 22 dividend initiations by companies in the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index. There have been five so far in 2012.

Of course, dividends are only as valuable to investors as the portion left after taxes. The current 15% rate cap comes from a 2003 series of temporary rate reductions that were extended through 2012. On Jan. 1, the rate cap expires, unless Congress acts.

No one knows how the politics will unfold. Jeremy Zirin, chief equity strategist at UBS, guesses -- and it is only a guess -- that politicians will settle for "the path of least resistance" with another short-term extension of the cuts sometime after the election.

Shopping Apps:

Nearly 40% of Smartphone owners use their phones for in-store price comparisons, making it the top mobile shopping-related activity, according to Nielsen. And even those with regular cell phones run price checks: During the 2011 holiday shopping season, 19% of consumers used their phone to compare products or prices in store, up from 15% in 2010 and 3% in 2009, according to customer service research firm ForeSee. "It's such a great development for consumers," says Deborah Mitchell, executive director for the Center of Brand and Product Management at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Apps are also only as good as their underlying price-search engine, says Edgar Dworsky, the founder of ConsumerWorld.org. Some stores or sites may be excluded from results, and partner retailers may be given preference in the listings. The software may update prices only sporadically or fail to include shipping, which can distort results, he says. And local search results are often limited to big-box retailers, with no mom-n-pop listings. "Maybe I'm being a little old-fashioned, but I tend to do my homework on a computer at home before I go to the store," he says. "That makes it easier to check a few sites for comparison."

Still, having a reliable price-comparison app or two on your phone can be a smart spot-check. Some stores may even be willing to match deals the apps find. Here are five the experts say are worth the download:

RedLaser
  • iPhone, Android, Windows
Decide.com
  • iPhone, Android
Price Check by Amazon
  • iPhone, Android
Consumer Reports Mobile Shopper
  • iPhone, Android