Apple Giveth, and Apple Taketh Away: The Swedish Biometrics Edition

Fingerprint technology companies have soared with a connection to the iPhone—and now get a taste of the downside
Source: YouTube

Plenty of investors feel whiplashed by Apple (AAPL). The company’s stock surged 86 percent from the day of Steve Jobs’s death to its all-time high in September 2012, then lost 44 percent of its value in the next seven months.

But that zigzag looks downright gentle next to the fortunes of some of the suppliers in the global smartphone market that Apple leads. Two Swedish makers of fingerprint sensors, Fingerprint Cards and Precise Biometrics, saw their shares leap 523 percent and 675 percent, respectively, from Jan. 1 through early September, as speculation built that Apple would include a fingerprint function in its new iPhones—and lead the rest of the industry to scramble to buy the technology to keep pace.

Now the two Swedish companies have come crashing down, on news that a European hacker group claimed to have defeated the security feature—by photographing a fingertip at extremely high resolution, printing the result onto a transparent sheet, and pouring “pink latex milk” onto the pattern. Fingerprint Cards lost as much as 36 percent in Stockholm trading, and Precise Biometrics lost 34 percent.

Fingerprint Cards Chief Executive Officer Johan Carlstroem gave this somewhat alarming quote to Bloomberg News in response to the hack: “Do you think it’s easy to first take a high-resolution picture of your fingerprint and then steal your mobile? Wouldn’t it be better to pick up a gun and press it against your temple and ask you to unlock it?”

Google’s Android mobile operating system has more users than Apple, but the iPhone is where tomorrow’s technology is often introduced to the masses. That includes multitouch screens and scratch-resistant glass.

As Bloomberg News has reported, Apple’s products draw from a $30 billion global network of at least 247 suppliers, from audio chips to plastics. Those companies gained in trading today after Apple announced it had sold 9 million new iPhones in the first weekend they were available.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.