Apple stock began rising in early trade on Thursday following at least two more price target increases following on the heels of another on Wednesday. Usually when this many firms boost their price targets for Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) stock, it’s because something is happening and driving the shares up to current targets, but that’s not the case here. What we have is a bidding war, of sorts, with analysts bidding up their projections for iPhone 8 units in fiscal 2018.
Apple stock boosted ahead of earnings
In most cases, what we have here is firms raising their targets because of lofty promises they’re making to investors unofficially on behalf of the company. And it’s all the iPhone 8’s fault. However. Stifel analyst Aaron Rakers is an exception, given that he’s one of a very limited number of analysts with a Hold rating on Apple stock. He raised his price target from $130 to $150 per share in a note dated April 19. Given that Apple stock is now past $140 a share, he was faced with the decision of either downgrading it or boosting his target.
The company is set to release its next earnings report in less than two weeks, and Rakers is looking for an in-line quarter. He’s estimating $52.4 billion in sales and $1.96 per share in adjusted earnings, which is a little short of the consensus estimates at $52.995 billion and $1.99 per share. The iPhone maker guided for $51.5 billion to $53.5 billion in sales and a gross margin of 38% to 39%.
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How many iPhone 8 units?
Even though we’re still months from even seeing what the iPhone 8 will look like, analysts are busily boosting their unit numbers for later this year. Rakers suggests that Apple could ship more than 90 million iPhones in the December quarter, based on the current active installed base, which he estimates at 730 million globally. He also examined historical shipment trends throughout the life of an iPhone cycle.
The analyst also examined China and noted that Apple is up against an easy year over year comparison, given that its sales there have struggled over the last year or so. However, he also feels that Wall Street might be underappreciating the affect China could have as the focus is on the iPhone 8 cycle. He noted that the iPhone 7 Plus accounted for about 58% of the iPhone ships to Greater China in the September and December 2016 quarters, a much higher mix than the 40% globally and 36% in the U.S.
Apple stock boosted for iPhone 8 unit estimates
Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty also raised her price target for Apple stock, bumping it up from $154 to $161 in a note dated April 19. She also reiterated her Overweight rating on it. While one or two analysts is starting to question whether expectations for the iPhone 8 are driving expectations for Apple stock too high, Huberty doesn’t think expectations are high enough.
Her base case for the iPhone 8 “supercycle” suggests 260 million to 264 million units for fiscal 2018, which she said represents at least 7% upside to the consensus of 242 million units. Like Rakers, she mentioned China as a driver of upside, as her bottom up analysis suggests a 66% growth rate there.
She also noted that some investors are concerned about supply constraints on key components such as the OLED display that’s rumored to be on the iPhone 8. However, she said her model is already assuming that there are some supply constraints at 4% unit growth in the second half of this year, well below the 20% to 30% growth implied by build forecasts. She adds that even if supplies are very constrained, strong demand should limit downside to Apple stock and may even extend the holding periods of most investors.
iPhone ASP should be higher
Huberty also echoed the suggestion about average selling price estimates for the iPhone being too low. Longbow argued this case earlier this week. She explained that between the mix of iPhone 7 Plus units and improving clarity on OLED supply, the average selling price will likely end up being higher than what consensus is assuming.
She said in November, her chucks suggested a supply of only 50 million OLED panels for Apple, but now that range has expanded to between 50 million and 100 million units as Samsung is a key variable. She feels that the OLED model may end up being closer to half of the end units sold, while she had been previously estimating only 33%, so her average selling price estimate rises from $713 to $753, versus the consensus of $675.
Shares of Apple stock ticked higher on Thursday, rising by as much as 0.81% to $141.82 during regular trading hours.