Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) stock declined following last night’s earnings results despite management’s better-than-expected sales outlook and a host of price target increases by analysts. At least one firm saw fit to downgrade the iPhone maker’s shares following the report in what is a massive contrarian call based on the number of price target increases we’re seeing from the same report.
Apple stock downgraded to Hold by Stifel
Stifel analyst Aaron Rakers quickly downgraded Apple stock from Buy to Hold and cut his price target from $130 to $115 per share after last night’s report. He believes the shares may remain range-bound between about $105 and $120 per share for the next two or three quarters until the company’s trajectory becomes more clear. He had been expecting a “solid F4Q16 beat-and-raise; leading into clearer upside potential for F1Q17.” Apple reported $46.85 billion in sales, versus the consensus of $46.89 billion, and pro forma earnings of $1.67 per share, versus the consensus of $1.65 per share.
Apple guided for between $76 billion and $78 billion and an iPhone average selling price that’s flat with last year. Rakers believes these two parts of the outlook point to between 75 million and 77 million iPhone shipments versus his previous expectation of 76.6 million units for the December quarter.
Apple still struggling in China
He also didn’t like the 7% year over year decline in iPhone sell-through, which was at about 43 million for the September quarter. That missed his expectation of closer to 50 million units. Shipments were at 45.5 million, beating the consensus of 45 million. Also the company continues to see declines in Greater China where sales plunged 30% year over year during the quarter, continuing the downward trend in the world’s most populous nation. Rakers also cautions that the March and June quarters could be a “pocket of weakness” for the company and believes that investors will or at least should temper their view on the upgrade rate for the iPhone installed base.
Further, he noted that Apple guided for the December quarter’s gross margin to be at 38% to 38.5%, compared to his previous estimate of 39.5% and the Street’s consensus of 40.1%. Indeed, the gross margin outlook is one area in which most analysts agree Apple’s report is problematic. Based on the gross margin and revenue guide, Drexel Hamilton analyst Brian White pegs the company’s implied earnings per share for the December quarter at about $3.17 at the midpoint, which he says is in line with consensus.
Others boost Apple stock targets
Stifel’s follow-up report on Apple’s earnings is different enough from other firms’ reports that one might wonder whether they were seeing the same earnings release. Most other firms harped on the strength of iPhone sales, as the company came out ahead of estimates on shipments. BMO Capital analysts said the iPhone average selling price was a little lower than what they were expecting, but Apple management made comments suggesting that the average selling price is strong.
Most firms raised their price targets for Apple stock. Barclays bumped up its target to $119 from $114 per share, proclaiming, “iPhone goodness cometh.” The iPhone maker reported a record number of Android switchers during the quarter, which was probably because of the Note 7 fiasco. Analyst Mark Moskowitz took the company’s comments about demand for the iPhone 7 Plus outstripping supply as “affirmation of the near-term lift to the iPhone business.”
JPMorgan analysts boosted their target for Apple stock from $107 to $114, while Piper Jaffray analysts moved to $155 from $151. Raymond James analysts raised their target for Apple stock from $139 to $148, while Brean Capital raised its target from $125 to $135.
Preparing for iPhone 8 supercycle
Morgan Stanley analysts boosted their target for Apple stock from $124 to $148 per share, saying that they’re buyers “ahead of an iPhone supercycle,” a reference to the iPhone 8’s expected total redesign. Analyst Katy Huberty looks for double-digit revenue and earnings per share growth in fiscal 2018 on the back of the new form factor, improved display and longer battery life, which she expects to shorten the replacement cycle. She also noted that services revenue accelerated again, and she believes the company “has an appetite for content acquisitions that could boost or even transform this business.”
Despite the endless hype from analysts, clearly investors wanted more. Shares of Apple stock declined by as much as 2.83% to $114.91 during regular trading hours on Wednesday.