Most analysts are expecting the iPhone 7 to help Apple make a comeback, whether or not it has any major new must-have features. But one investor believes the company should delay the release of its next iPhone lineup, basically advocating a strategy that, if it does what he believes it would do, would essentially amount to artificially making Apple stock look like it has returned to growth status. But this strategy doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Save the iPhone 7 for a better year?
In a post on Seeking Alpha, Bill Maurer argues that fiscal 2016 can’t be salvaged, so he concludes that it doesn’t make sense to focus on the fourth quarter. Apple’s fiscal year ends in September, and the iPhone maker is on track for a large decline in earnings per share and sales. The iPhone 6s turned out to be a very weak cycle, but it’s up against difficult comparisons with the previous year when the company began offering its very first iPhone with a larger screen.
So Maurer believes Apple should put off releasing the iPhone 7 until after the end of the fiscal fourth quarter. He believes it will make fiscal 2017 look much better than fiscal 2016 because Apple will be artificially building in an easy year over year comparison for itself.
He noted that for the fourth quarter, Wall Street already expects a sales decline that’s almost in the double digits, so he suggests that the company should “lower the bar some more,” thus pushing some revenues and earnings into fiscal 2017. He adds that all it would take is a delay of a week or two in launching the iPhone 7 so that it is released in October rather than September.
Despite the weakness of the iPhone 6s, last year’s December quarter still set a new record in iPhone units and total revenues, so Maurer notes that this means the company still has a difficult comparison for this year’s December quarter. He essentially believes that this year’s December quarter needs all the help it can get in order for Apple to make it look like it’s posting strong growth.
Apple could buy back more shares
He also argues that by delaying the iPhone 7’s launch, Apple could keep its share price low so that it could buy back more shares. The company has been conducting share repurchases to soothe investors for years, and he notes that it bought back huge chunks of shares at more than $120 apiece, which now “looks rather foolish” as Apple stock is now hovering below $100. Maurer believes that the company could keep its share price low for the purpose of buying back more shares at the low price.
He also believes that now is the time for the company to really focus on its share repurchase program because interest rates are still low. Apple has been loading on more debt to buy back shares because rates have been so low, but they won’t stay low forever. While last week’s weak economic data gave the Federal Reserve pause, U.S. policymakers are still expected to raise rates at least once this year.
Would delaying the iPhone 7 really do anything?
Maurer’s proposal basically entails financial engineering (of a sort, although not technically) for the purpose of making it look like Apple should still be classified as a growth stock. Some have argued that the company should now be considered a value stock, and the investment by legendary value investor Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway provided the confirmation some were looking for on this topic.
Basically, Maurer thinks the company should artificially inflate growth in the holiday quarter by tanking the September quarter as hard as possible. However, this may not do much to impact Apple’s results. The company is expected to begin selling the iPhone 7 late in September, and while usually the first weekend is a huge one for sales, moving those sales into the holiday quarter may not make much of a difference.
As for keeping shares lower longer so that Apple can keep taking advantage of low interest rates, it all depends on when the Fed raises interest rates again. A summer rate hike is generally not expected, but September is a possibility. Fed Chairperson Janet Yellen said on Monday that they may raise rates then if the economic indicators have recovered. In other words, if Apple is going to conduct share repurchases by taking out more debt, it would be wise to do it now since September could be the next time interest rates are increased.
Apple shares edged higher by as much as 0.84% to $99.46 during regular trading hours on Tuesday.