Apple Inc. Sentiment Mixed Going Into Earnings

Apple Inc. Sentiment Mixed Going Into Earnings
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What’s an investor to do with Apple stock these days? Analyst sentiment on the company in the days around the beginning of the Apple Watch preorders is quite mixed. More than one firm has downgraded Apple in the last week, while others have raised their price targets.

Apple sentiment a moving target

In a report dated April 9, Canaccord Genuity analysts Michael Walkley and Siddharth Sinha reiterated their Buy rating but bumped up their price target from $145 to $150 per share. Their reasoning is because surveys suggest Apple is still taking share of the high-end smartphone market with the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. The results of their survey echo the results of another survey cited by UBS recently.

Also on the bullish side are Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Brian White and Cowen analyst Tim Arcuri. White moved his price target for Apple from $160 to $180, while Arcuri bumped his target for Apple up to $135 from $115.

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Interestingly, Societe Generale analysts downgraded Apple last week because of difficult iPhone comparisons. They also cited currency exchange issues for their downgrade. Last week Raymond James analysts also cut their rating for Apple, but they cited some rather negative reviews for the Apple Watch.

Apple estimates raised by Canaccord

Analysts from Canaccord Genuity and Cantor Fitzgerald both present data related to iPhone sales. Canaccord’s Walkley and Sinha specifically said there are signs Apple is still taking share of the high-end smartphone market. As a result, they raised their estimates.

Their earnings per share estimate for fiscal 2015 increases from $8.53 to $8.94 per share, and their iPhone estimate for the second fiscal quarter moves from 55 million to 58 million units. For the June quarter, they’re now estimating 46 million iPhones, compared to their previous estimate of 44 million units.

Apple’s iPhone numbers look good

The Canaccord team believes about 15% of iPhone users have upgraded to one of the iPhone 6 models, and they expect the strong upgrade cycle will continue “for the next several quarters.” Further, they said their surveys suggest that more high-end Android users are switching to one of the iPhone 6 models compared to the iPhone 5/5S upgrade cycles. Another bonus for iPhone share gains is the release of the Apple Watch, which they say should drive more traffic into Apple retail stores and thus should benefit iPhone sales.

They also expect a greater mix of the more expensive iPhone 6 models with higher storage amounts will continue pushing strong average selling prices and gross margins over iPhone upgrade cycles going forward. Because of the results of their recent surveys, they expect that Apple will have half a billion iPhone users by the end of this year.

Cowen’s Arcuri also conducted his own iPhone survey and offered more specific numbers. For example, he found that approximately one-quarter of the demand for Apple’s iPhone 6 models came from new iPhone users. Nearly one-third of buyers in China switched from Android to an iPhone.

Nomura analysts are expecting an earnings beat due to strong iPhone sales. They’re projecting 59 million iPhone sales with an average selling price of $630 and group revenue of $56.7 billion. This would be greater than the guidance of between $52 billion and $55 billion. It’s also higher than consensus estimates.

What about the Apple Watch?

While the Apple Watch has brought mixed sentiment from analysts, Canaccord analysts are of the opinion that initial demand for it will be strong. They estimate sales of 20 million units for the 2015 calendar year, which represents only approximately 4% of iPhone users.

On the other hand, Cowen analysts said the hefty price tag, weak battery life and requirement of an iPhone to use might put a damper on early demand for the smartwatch. More than half of the participants of Arcuri’s iPhone survey had strong intentions of buying the Apple Watch—with great intentions to buy among Android users, interestingly.

Cantor Fitzgerald’s Brian White is almost always on top in terms of estimates for Apple. He’s projecting 25.1 million Apple Watch sales for the 2016 fiscal year.

Apple to make cash return announcement

Taking the middle-of-the-road view are Nomura analysts Stuart Jeffrey and Michel Dilmanian. They’re maintaining their Neutral rating and $129 per share price target on Apple heading into this month’s earnings report.

Apple’s capital return plans are also a big topic in this month’s earnings report. Management promised an update, so analysts have been setting forth their expectations. The Nomura team issued a report dated April 10 in which they focused mostly on capital return expectations for Apple.

They expect Apple to increase its cash return target from $130 billion to $150 billion by the end of this year and to $200 billion by the end of the 2016 calendar year. They also think it’s possible Apple will increase its dividend to a payout ratio of 30%. That would provide a 2.1% yield and 67 cents of quarterly dividends per share.

They also think Apple could buy back up to $200 billion worth of shares between this year and 2017 while also keeping its gross debt under the amount of tax-adjusted cash it has overseas. However, they think a more likely number is approximately $35 billion in share repurchases annually.

The result would be approximately a 4.5% reduction in share count per annum. This would also increase Apple’s debt to $98 billion by the end of 2016 and $112 billion by the end of 2017. However, they point out that Apple’s overseas cash “would confortably” cover that debt.

Cowen’s Arcuri expects Apple to repurchase $15 billion worth of shares each quarter.

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Michelle Jones is editor-in-chief for and has been with the site since 2012. Previously, she was a television news producer for eight years. She produced the morning news programs for the NBC affiliates in Evansville, Indiana and Huntsville, Alabama and spent a short time at the CBS affiliate in Huntsville. She has experience as a writer and public relations expert for a wide variety of businesses. Email her at [email protected]
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