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Beware the dangers of losing money in the ASX “blue chips”

Credit: Frédéric BISSON

In 1975, Gordon E. Moore predicted that the power of the average computer processor would double every two years.

Moore’s law is famous in the computing and electronics industries and, to this day, has more or less held true.

While the “law” is a projection and not a physical or natural law, the rate of technological change today has undoubtedly altered the business environment. Consider the speed with which Airbnb and Uber changed the accommodation and taxi industries and spread their model over the world.

Additionally, the global economy continues to connect on a deeper scale. Never has it been so easy for an international competitor, such as Aldi or Costco, to start business operations in an overseas destination like Australia. The same applies to the Australian digital businesses REA Group Limited (ASX: REA) and SEEK Limited (ASX: SEK) which are expanding internationally with the aim to upset the status quo.

Which S&P/ASX 200 (Index: ^AXJO) (ASX: XJO) blue chips are highly-exposed to the modern business environment?

The Big 4 

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia (ASX: CBA), Westpac Banking Corp (ASX: WBC), Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ASX: ANZ) and National Australia Bank Ltd. (ASX: NAB) face increasing competition across many digital fronts, which will ultimately lead to reduced market share and squeezed margins.

Ozforex Group Ltd  (ASX: OFX) has slashed the cost for consumers wanting to transfer money overseas or pay bills in other currencies. Also, innovative upstarts such as Yellow Brick Road Holdings Ltd  (ASX: YBR) are winning customers by offering lower rates on home loans and providing financial planning and fund management services suitable for every budget.

The supermarkets

The high-profit margins our Australian supermarket duopoly of Wesfarmers Ltd  (ASX: WES) and Woolworths Limited  (ASX: WOW) enjoyed in the past are being challenged by foreign entrants such as Costco and Aldi.

Increasing competition in this commodity market means the past performance of our supermarket giants will unlikely resemble that of their future.

Telecoms

Telstra Corporation Ltd (ASX: TLS) was our national telecom carrier which dominated the market due to its historically superior network. But, to quote Bob Dylan’s famous song, ‘The times they are a-changin’.

Companies such as TPG Telecom Ltd  (ASX: TPM) and Vocus Communications Limited  (ASX: VOC) are young, innovative businesses that are expanding in the market with competitive, low-cost services covering the consumer and corporate markets.

The aggressive competitive landscape is already affecting profit margins within the industry. Vocus reported in its FY15 results that it suffered a 40% decline in pricing power over the year, but revenue still increased 17% due to volume growth of 111% over the prior 18 months.

Foolish takeaway

Due to the change of the business landscape, aided by technology, the ASX200 blue chip companies of yesterday are facing an uncertain future.

Whilst I am not suggesting that these high-quality businesses are likely to collapse, the competitive advantages they have enjoyed for so long are being eroded away, along with their future growth, profit margins and subsequently investor returns.

It is important to consider the rapid change in today’s business landscape when trying to find the ASX blue chips of tomorrow.

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Motley Fool contributor Mitch Sonogan owns shares of REA Group Limited, Seek Limited, Vocus Communications Limited,  OzForex Group Limited and Telstra Limited. Unless otherwise noted, the author does not have a position in any stocks mentioned by the author in the comments below. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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