I think the point that he is trying to make is that investors tend to be very short sighted and most of them don't really care about the company at all. They just want to get in, make some quick cash, sell their stock, and then probably use the money to buy the stock of a competitor. Publically traded companies are under constant pressure to maximize short term profit even if it means that the company will suffer in the long term strategy. If the investors are too stupid or greedy to understand why a company is spending so much on R&D this quarter in order to release future products it can be almost impossible for the company to justify those moves to investors. The investors just see it as inefficiency. Of course if they don't make moves, a few quarters down the road those same investors will turn around and say that the company is stagnant and should have invested more in R&D.
Originally Posted by tgp
There are lots of examples of this. It's not uncommon for a large publically traded company to release an earnings report showing X billion dollars of profit and then lay off thousands of workers because investors were expecting X+1 billion dollars profit.
A more specific and recent example of this was Microsoft's 900 million dollar write down for Surface RT. MS is trying to break into an established market which is an extremely difficult undertaking with a lot of risk. To anyone that has some common sense and a clue about technology it's probably not a surprise that it may take a lot of money and a few attempts to be successful. Yet shortly after the Surface RT write down a bunch of class action lawsuits were filed against Microsoft by investors that apparently felt that ever single thing that MS does has to be successful on the first attempt. It doesn't matter that MS made 5 billion dollars of profit that same quarter.
Thankfully MS is still attempting to upgrade products, innovate, research, and plan for the future despite the average wall street investment firm i.d.i.o.t pushing for more safe boring business ideas like "fire some people to reduce costs." I can only imagine how frustrating it would be for someone like Steve Ballmer to have to explain something as complex as Microsoft's vision for all of their different products and ecosystem to a bunch of boring glorified accountants and technology illiterate rich old dudes.