It looks like things are turning around for Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) and its stock. The company is making a comeback from the lackluster iPhone 6s cycle with an iPhone 7 cycle that’s turning out to be bigger than what Wall Street was expecting. In fact, Apple has sold out the initial supply of iPhone 7 Plus handsets, it said today, and talk about Throwback Thursday: Apple stock is doing something it hasn’t done in more than six years.
BTIG ups price target for Apple stock
In a report dated September 15, BTIG analyst Walter Piecyk said he has increased his price target for Apple stock from $124 to $133 per share, citing the recent commentary around exceptionally strong iPhone 7 preorders from the four major U.S. carriers. He called the commentary “meaningful,” especially because of how weak Wall Street was expecting iPhone 7 sales to be. The fear was that there just weren’t enough big updates to this year’s models to convince consumers to upgrade.
The analyst is now more confident in his above-consensus estimates for the December quarter. He projects a return to growth for both sales and earnings per share. As a reminder, T-Mobile said on Monday that preorders for the iPhone 7 were almost quadruple the number of preorders for the next-most popular model. Sprint said preorders were almost quadruple last year’s preorder numbers which is of course less impressive in light of the weakness of that cycle.
Verizon, AT&T finally pipe up on iPhone 7 preorders
Piecyk noted that even when taking into account the potential volatility in the sales of smaller carriers, the growth rates were still far above the 30% preorder growth T-Mobile recorded last year. Verizon and AT&T finally chimed in on the topic of iPhone 7 preorders last night, with Verizon essentially dodging the question be calling it “business as usual.” AT&T also highlighted exceptional performance, stating that preorders were higher than they were last year and better than it had expected them to be.
The BTIG analyst also considered whether the reports from the mobile carriers were just a “false positive.” He will continue to monitor commentary from mobile carriers, particularly in light of Apple’s decision to not report preorder numbers this year. The company had said it expected the initial supply to sell out, and apparently the iPhone 7 Plus has sold out already. The phones land on store shelves tomorrow.
We still don’t know if the company will report first weekend sales as it has done in the past, but if it does, it will likely be a catalyst for Apple stock on Monday.
Credit Suisse observes positive mix shifts
In their own report dated September 15, Credit Suisse analyst Kulbinder Garcha and team said they’ve raised their iPhone estimates. In addition to the positive carrier commentary, they cited their own proprietary iPhone survey and other data points. They now estimate 215 million iPhones in the 2016 calendar year and 221 million iPhones in 2016, up from 208 million and 217 million, respectively.
Their recent surveys pointed to some positive mix shifts that point to strong average selling prices for the iPhone 7. For example, they estimate that the mix of iPhone 7 to iPhone 7 Plus hands to be 67% / 33%, compared to last year’s 70% / 30%. Of course the Plus is more expensive than the base model, which means the selling price is higher.
Their survey also indicates that 60% of iPhone users are planning to upgrade within a year, and the implied replacement rate for all users stood at about 29 months. This is an improvement from the 32 months they were previously estimating, and Credit Suisse is not the first firm to report a shortening of the replacement cycle. Garcha also reported positive movement in the area of memory size as 81% said they will buy the mid or high tier option.
All of these factors led the CS team to adjust their estimates for average selling prices to $632 for this year and $661 for next year and for gross margins to 39.5% this year and 40.5% next year.
Apple stock gains in five consecutive sessions
Investors are really taking hold of the strong iPhone 7 cycle this year, as CNBC noted today that Apple stock has moved more than 2% for five consecutive trading sessions—something it hasn’t done since April 2009. In only three trading days, Apple add more than $50 billion to its market capitalization. Apple stock climbed by about 2% to as high as $115.51 during regular trading hours on Thursday.
RBC Capital analyst Amit Daryanani highlighted five reasons Apple stock will keep outperforming in a report dated September 14. One is Samsung’s challenges with the Galaxy Note 7’s exploding batteries, which many analysts were quick to say will benefit Apple. The second is the expectations for positive mix shifts for higher average selling prices, which Credit Suisse’s data provides evidence for.
Third, he believes Apple’s valuation is “attractive” and sees the possibility of multiple expansion driven by share gains and average selling price and gross margin tailwinds. Fourth, he notes that Apple stock has outperformed during periods of volatility in the markets (and this has certainly been a volatile week for the rest of the S&P 500), and finally, he expects FTM estimates to move higher due to the extra week in the December quarter.