This year it seems that Apple stock is being impacted more by expectations for the iPhone 8 than by what’s happening with the iPhone 7. One big reason for that is because next year will be the tenth anniversary of the iPhone, and thus, something huge is expected. However, it’s probably a good thing that iPhone 8 hopes are driving Apple stock right now because analysts seem more befuddled than usual when it comes to trying to figure out how iPhone 7 sales are going.
iPhone 7 Plus supply still constrained
One point that most analysts do agree on is that demand for the iPhone 7 Plus still appears to be constrained even though it’s been about two months since the new phones were released. Wait times for the Plus-sized iPhone still stands at three to four weeks. Goldman Sachs analysts said in a Dec. 4 research note that the constraints on demand for the iPhone 7 Plus are making it difficult to tell just how well this year’s lineup is doing in terms of end demand.
They add that after meeting with manufacturers and component suppliers, they feel that iPhone 7 sales are going about as expected, noting that this is better news than the recent concerns from Apple’s supply chain suggesting that there Apple had cut iPhone orders at TSMC. As a result, they believe that either the reports were company-specific due to inventory levels or yields or not entirely accurate.
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iPhone 7 demand appears soft
Nomura Instinet analyst Jeffrey Kvaal described demand for the smaller iPhone 7 as “sedate” in his report dated Dec. 1. He noted that it took about a month for supply and demand on the iPhone 7 to reach equilibrium, which was about the same as for the iPhone 6. He believes that demand for the iPhone 7 Plus is “siphoning” from demand for its smaller sibling and that as a result, demand for the 7 is softer.
Kvaal added that his checks in the U.S. suggest that fourth quarter upgrade rates will be similar to that they were for the iPhone 6s last year and that Apple’s purchase commitments suggest the same story. He also believes that the iPhone’s gains versus Android phones are still positive, even if they’re smaller because of the constraints on the iPhone 7 Plus. He explains that even if the growth rate is smaller, it implies that the iPhone 8 will launch into a subscriber base that’s almost 50% higher than the base the iPhone 6 launched into two years ago.
Is Apple doing well in China or not?
UBS analyst Steven Milunovich used sell-through data from Gartner to gauge iPhone 7 sales for his Dec. 5 report. He said even though iPhone shipments fell 8% year over year in fiscal 2016 compared to the premium smartphone market’s 4% decline, Apple still outperformed competitors in most markets. He explained that sales in the West are still solid, with all regions except China showing improved sales trajectories in the second half of fiscal 2016.
What’s worse is that the declines in China got worse in the third and fourth fiscal quarters, with Hong Kong leading the fall on the back of the strong dollar. Milunovich believes that Apple’s brand is still strong but that consumers in China want a greater differentiation than what the company provided between the iPhone 6s and iPhone 7.
Interestingly, Kvaal termed demand for the iPhone 7 Plus as “strong” in China and the U.S. This would seem to support Milunovich’s view that Chinese consumers want more differentiation because the 7 Plus has dual-lens camera on it, which does set it apart from its predecessor, the iPhone 6s Plus. If it doesn’t support his view of the need for differentiation, then it just adds confusion to what is already a muddled story.
Shares of Apple stock declined by as much as 0.78% to $109.04 during regular trading hours on Monday.