Apple is enjoying continued strong demand for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus in China, according to all the latest data points. Stifel analysts provided an update on all the latest numbers from China’s three biggest mobile carriers, and as a result of that data, Jefferies analysts have bumped up their price target for Apple.
China ramps up 4G
In a report dated March 19, Stifel analyst Aaron Rakers and his team highlighted the February mobile subscriber data from China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom. They say the ramp of 4G wireless service in China is likely giving growth of the iPhone a boost there. As a result, China has now become the iPhone’s second biggest market.
China ended February with 1.294 billion total mobile subscribers compared to 1.246 billion in the same month a year ago. The number was about flat month over month. China ended the month with 638.6 total 3G and 4G subscribers, an increase from 618.5 million at the end of January and 449.7 million at the end of February 2014. Currently 2% subscribers make up about 51% of all Chinese mobile subscribers.
China Mobile sees 4G smartphone growth
China Mobile had 810.8 million subscribers at the end of February, compared to 808.55 million at the end of January. The carrier has 123.4 million 4G subscribers, which made up 15% of its total subscriber base.
The number of 4G subscribers increased 16.6 from January. The number of 3G subscribers rose 1 million from January to 242.5 million at the end of February. Forty-five percent of China Mobile’s subscribers are 3G or 4G subscribers.
China Mobile sold more than 100 million 4G smartphones in 2014, including 22 million in the first half of the year. This means the carrier sold the greatest majority of its 4G smartphones in the second half of the year, which indicates the strength Apple’s iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus had in boosting 4G smartphone sales.
The carrier has also been lowering its device subsidies, pushing them 28.5% lower last year. On the other hand though, it has been taking steps to boost 4G migration, offering yet another way to make Apple’s iPhones more attractive to Chinese consumers. In fact, Apple has in the past that only 20% of the iPhones that have sold in China had a traditional subsidy, demonstrating that Chinese consumers are still able and willing to fork over large amounts of cash for the company’s trendy devices.
China Telecom, China Unicom also see growth
China Telecom reported a total of 187.6 million subscribers, a slight increase from 186.7 million the month before and 185 million in February 2014. The carrier has 122.6 million 3G and 4G subscribers, which make up 65.3% of the mobile carrier’s total subscriber base.
China Unicom ended February with a total of 296.4 million subscriber, a decline from 299.2 million subscribers at the end of January but up from 285.7 million in February of last year. The carrier had 150.6 3G and 4G subscribers, which make up 51% of its total subscriber base. China Unicom aims to end this year with 100 million 4G subscribers and expects to sell about 40 million 4G smartphones.
Jefferies ups price target for Apple
On Wednesday, analyst Sundeep Bajikar and the rest of the Jefferies team raised their price target for Apple from $124 to $130 per share but maintained their Hold rating. The firm cited strong iPhone demand in China, which they believe will boost Apple’s earnings, raising them 10% higher than consensus estimates for the March quarter. Jefferies analysts stated that their analysis of data from Counterpoint suggested that more than half of iPhone shipment growth (53%0 actually came from China.
The firm expects iPhone sales to slow in the June quarter, however, as Samsung looks to steal share with the Galaxy Note 4, Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge. The analysts stated that consumers appear to be reacting positively to Samsung’s new offerings. U.S. consumers seem especially positive on the new smartphones.
As of this writing, shares of Apple were down 0.4% to $127.96 per share.