Apple Inc. (AAPL) stock has been hanging on iPhone sales for many years, but this year, it might not matter how many units the company sells or even whether it beats earnings and sales estimates. Investors could be so focused on next year’s tenth anniversary model that they don’t care what happens in the near term, putting Apple Inc. (AAPL) stock firmly in the speculative camp.
Apple might miss estimates
UBS analyst Steven Milunovich warned in a research note dated Nov. 28 that he sees downside risk to estimates for both the December and March quarters. He said his firm’s iPhone procurement estimate numbers for both quarters are down year and year, which means that the consensus estimates for unit shipments growth in both of them are at risk.
His colleague Arthur Hsieh revised his iPhone procurement estimates lower, pushing his December quarter estimate from 75 million to 74 million, which would be a 1% decline year over year. He set his March quarter estimate at 42 million units, which is a decline from last year’s 43 million units.
Milunovich said that the shift toward the bigger iPhone 7 Plus continues, as his firm is now estimating 26 million Plus-sized units in the December quarter, compared to 17 million iPhone 6s Plus units in the December 2016 quarter. Of course the greater mix of iPhone 7 Plus units is good for the average selling price.
Concerns about December and March
The analyst still believes Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s guide for the December quarter implies “at least moderate unit growth,” but he adds that it’s just too soon to tell what March will bring. He is currently estimating 76 million iPhone units for the December quarter, putting him below the consensus of 78 million units. He pegs the March quarter at 55 million units, which is in line with consensus, but he noted that many investors are concerned about the March quarter already.
He explained that Apple Inc. (AAPL) might decide to be conservative with its supply chain for the March quarter to avoid a repeat of what happened last year when it overestimated demand. The iPhone maker ended up having to cut procurement later after giving its supply chain high numbers. Milunovich said it’s too early to get a clear picture of procurement for the March quarter. He added that the company might keep inventory lean through the end of December in order to plan ahead for what might be a difficult March quarter.
Buying Apple stock for 2018
The UBS analyst is still advising investors to buy Apple Inc. (AAPL) stock for the fiscal 2018 product cycle. He notes that usually Apple Inc. (AAPL) stock is driven by whether the company beats estimates for the next 12 months, and he sees downside risk all the way out to the June quarter. However, even though investors are understandably concerned, he believes it might not matter whether the company misses estimates. He suggests that investors could be so optimistic about fiscal 2018 that they may buy Apple Inc. (AAPL) stock anyway.
The company is expected to deliver major changes next year with the iPhone 8. Needless to say, if it fails to wow investors next year, Apple Inc. (AAPL) stock could become one of the most-shunned on Wall Street. All is on the line next year, so investors might get tired of waiting around for something great to happen.
Shares of Apple Inc. (AAPL) stock closed down 0.1% at $111.46 on Tuesday.