The iPhone X is likely to be a phenomenal success for Apple. But its success will not be driven by anything new that the new phone packs inside. Instead, its success will be based on the phone’s screen size. Essentially, iPhone X provides the same screen real-estate as an iPhone Plus, but with the sleeker form factor of the iPhone 7 or 8.
Apple has done a great job at changing the paradigm of our thinking about the iPhone. If you only care about making phone calls, then an iPhone 4 is good enough. Why pay for more? You probably don’t even need to upgrade your phone for years, as long as the battery keeps holding its charge. However, for most, the actual “phone” function is the least important of the iPhone.
From an earnings perspective, iPhone X will be a tremendous boost. It will increase the average selling price per unit by a few hundred dollars, which should help not just sales, but profit margins as well. This is actually healthy for both Apple and the entire iPhone ecosystem (including DRAM and solid state drive makers — for example, we still have a large position in Micron Technology). People were also postponing buying new iPhones while waiting for the iPhone X; thus, the number of units sold will probably exceed most optimistic expectations.
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Then the question becomes, What is next? Higher-priced iPhones will also change the dynamics of the upgrade cycle. Apple is going to have a harder time convincing iFanatics to shell out $1,000-$1,200 every year (or even every two years). The upgrade cycle will likely be elongating to three or four years. Thus, any blow-out success of iPhone X in 2017 and early 2018 will be coming at the expense of future years. Even if you are a loyal Apple shareholder, you have to be prepared for this.
Absent a new category of products, Apple is turning into a fully ripe stock. Yes, it will look statistically cheap based on 2018 earnings, but that will not be the case if you look at 2019 or 2020 earnings. As all the excitement subsides, Apple stock will have to answer an extremely important question: What is next? After all, the value of any business is a lot more than the earnings generated next year, but far beyond that.
So, how does one invest in this overvalued market? Our strategy is spelled out in this fairly lengthy article.
Vitaliy Katsenelson is chief investment officer at Investment Management Associates in Denver, Colo, which has a position in both Apple and Micron Technology. He is the author of “Active Value Investing” (Wiley) and “The Little Book of Sideways Markets” (Wiley). Read more on Katsenelson’s Contrarian Edge blog.