A Billion Isn't What It Used To Be

By Will Ashworth | October 10, 2008 AAA

When I was young, I would tell my dad that I wanted to be a millionaire when I grew up. My father, from good protestant stock, would counter that this wasn't much of a goal; that a billion was more ambitious in the modern age. Ever since, I've been fixated by the 10-digit figure. To honor this fixation, I've assembled a list of items $1 billion represents. Unfortunately, it looks like my dad might still have been too conservative in his estimate.

Pizza Pies
In May, pizza giant Pappa John's (Nasdaq:PZZA) reached $1 billion in online sales. It was the first of the big chains to offer online ordering in 2001, and web orders now represent 20% of its total sales. It took seven years to reach its first billion, but Pappa John's could reach $2 billion in just three more. Now, if they could only figure out how to send the pizza through the computer. That would be something. (Before you enter your credit card info, see Keep Your Financial Data Safe Online.)

Online Software
Salesforce.com
(NYSE:CRM), a leader in Software as a Service (SaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) applications for customer relationship management, guided in its second-quarter press release in August that it would achieve $1 billion in revenue in fiscal 2009. With sales strong (up 49% in Q2) and half-a-year in the books, I think that success is almost a given.

Shoes
One billion dollars represents a lot of shoes if Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh is on the mark. In July, he said on his company blog that the online shoe retailer would hit $1 billion in sales (up from $840 million in 2007) this year, two years ahead of plan. I guess Al Bundy and company are looking over their shoulders, not to mention Payless Shoe Source and parent Collective Brands (NYSE:PSS).

Lost Retirement Savings
The Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System has lost about $1 billion since June 30 (this was reported in the latter part of September) because of the downturn in the markets. While it represents less than a 4% drop from its $31.5 billion in assets, multiply this loss by 49 other states and it seems everyone is hurting.

Video Games
THQ (Nasdaq:THQI) announced earlier this year that its Nickelodeon franchise of games (Avatar, Sponge Bob Square Pants) hit a lifetime sales mark of $1 billion, as did its WWE (NYSE:WWE) games. However, both seem passé to me.

Electronic Books
A Product Hotter than the iPod? "Blasphemy!" shout Apple (Nasdaq:AAPL) zealots, however, if Citi Investment Research analysts are to be believed, Amazon's (Nasdaq:AMZN) Kindle e-book reader sales should top $1 billion by the year 2010. According to Citi, the growth is better than the iPod when it first made an appearance several years ago. Don't get too excited. A billion in sales will still only represent 3.8% of Amazon's total revenue; a mere drop in the bucket.

Venture Capital Bonanza
If you do any networking online, you are likely familiar with LinkedIn, the social networking site that connects professionals who share contacts and interests. In June, the Silicon Valley company obtained $53 million in venture capital for just 5% of the stock, putting its potential value at $1 billion-plus. Former Pay Pal employee and director Reid Hoffman started the company and looks on target to amass another small fortune. (To learn more, see Cashing In On The Venture Capital Cycle.)

Movie Madness
Viacom's (NYSE:VIA.B) Paramount unit reached the $1 billion mark for international box office revenue in mid-June, three weeks ahead of last year's results. The first studio to reach nine zero's, it was on the back of the three highest grossing films year-to-date. Movies continue to delight despite skeptics.

Job Losses and Early Retirement
In July, Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY) announced strong revenue and earnings growth in its second quarter. Most important, it said it was adding $1 billion in cost cuts to an already completed $1.5 billion program of reductions. Who cares if you don't want to retire; they'll make it worth your while.

Lots of Fruit
Apple's third quarter net income topped $1 billion, thanks in part to 43% revenue growth in its Mac computers. This is good news but Steve Jobs might still have to worry if future iPod sales don't sparkle. With impossible economic conditions, it's hard to know if people will be buying electronics this Christmas. My guess is sweatshirts will take the place of Apple products under the tree this year. You have to get something for the mother-in-law.

Bottom Line
Sure, a $700 billion bailout sounds like a lot, but remember a billion dollars just doesn't go as far as it used to. Don't believe me? We've already got the world's first billion-dollar home.

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