Apple Earnings Draw Somewhat Bearish Reactions Too

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While Apple tends to be a Wall Street darling, last night’s earnings report has brought out the bear in some analysts (well, sort of). When reviewing the flood of reports we received overnight and this morning, it became that analysts are split, nearly right down the middle, on Apple’s report last night. Several firms upped their price targets, but a few others actually lowered theirs.

The company reported $51.5 billion in revenue and earnings of $1.96 per share, beating guidance and consensus estimates. Gross margin was 39.9%, almost a 2-point expansion as a result of lower costs and changes in accounting pertaining to the iPhone.

Morgan Stanley cuts Apple price target

Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty, long known for her very bullish stance on Apple, trimmed her price target for the stock from $162 to $152 per share following last night’s earnings report. However, she remains firmly in the bull camp despite this. She still prefers the stock among the big cap names she follows, and actually didn’t really have anything bad to say about last night’s report.

She noted that the iPhone remains strong, even in emerging markets like China, which is undergoing some serious macro problems. Also the iPhone 6S upgrade cycle continues, as 69% of users still have models with the smaller screens. Apple set a new record in grabbing smartphone share away from Android, and the average selling price for the iPhone climbed during the September quarter.

She still likes how competitive Apple’s platform is, and she noted that the December quarter guide was better than expected. Further, the company upped gross margin guidance from 38.5% to 39.5% last quarter to a range of 39% to 40% for the December quarter. Huberty believes lower revenue deferrals are partially offsetting currency headwinds. Although bears remain focused on the March quarter, she expects continued growth.

So why the price target cut? It’s hard to say really.

Credit Suisse trims Apple price target

Credit Suisse analyst Kulbinder Garcha and team also continue to like Apple and have maintained their Outperform rating on the stock, but they also trimmed their price target, pushing it down from $145 to $140 per share. They found last night’s report “reassuring,” noting that Apple’s retention rate is high. They believe its ecosystem is superior and that the company enjoys a “multi-product compute advantage.”

They continue to see more growth ahead, especially for the iPhone. Also they said management “sounded confident” on China, a region they see as being important for future growth. Interestingly, once again we have a very positive report on Apple paired with a price target cut.

Deutsche Bank: wins and misses

Deutsche Bank analysts Sherri Scribner and Adrienne Colby have maintained their Hold rating and $125 per share price target on Apple. They saw mixed results in last night’s report with notes for both bulls and bears. However, none of the report was enough to shift their view in either direction.

They said gross margins were good as they came out ahead of expectations by 60 basis points, but they expect more pressure ahead in this area as Apple’s hedges start to roll off. Also management’s revenue growth forecast was better than expected, and they continue to expect growth in iPhone units. Among the negatives they saw in the report were iPhone units for the December quarter, which they think look low, considering that there are more selling days in China.

Overall, the Deutsche Bank team expects Apple shares to remain range-bound for the next few quarters because they don’t see many potential catalysts ahead in the near term.

Not a “blowout quarter” for Apple: Blair

William Blair analyst Anil Doradla said Apple’s results were “solid,” although they didn’t “blow out Street expectations.” However, they were “good enough” to keep the analyst positive on Apple, so he maintained his Outperform rating on the stock. Also this report was very positive despite the bearish-sounding headline.

Among the positives he mentioned were the iPhone’s strength in China, continued share gains from Android users, and higher average selling prices and gross margins. He also pointed out that Apple had about 800 basis points of currency headwinds to deal with during the September quarter. Management expects another 700 basis points for the current quarter.

To counter the bearish argument about tough year over year iPhone comparisons, he said he thinks the rise of the middle class is improving purchasing power for consumers, even in emerging markets and especially in China and India. He even suggested that Apple’s strength in the high end of the smartphone market is making Samsung “increasingly looking like another Nokia in the making.” Further, he said skeptics previously said Apple couldn’t do well in an emerging market like China because of the high cost of its phones, but now China makes up 25.1% of iPhone sales.

Other concerns for Apple

Macquarie Research analyst Ben Schachter also has an Outperform rating on Apple with a $133 per share price target. He saw mostly positives as well, adding the 40% increase in enterprise revenues and the 25% increase in App Store revenues to the list of often-mentioned items named by other firms. On the negative side, he saw the possibility for revenue growth to slow down “dramatically” in the December quarter.

Unlike most bulls, he sees the potential for iPhone growth to actually slow down and doesn’t think the Apple Watch, the Apple TV set-top box, or Apple Music will do well enough to offset it. He also noted that iPad sales remain week, as they fell 20% year over year. He does think Apple is in a good position to leverage its ecosystem in other areas like cars and virtual reality.

Concerns about March

Raymond James analyst Tavis McCourt maintained his Market Perform rating on Apple and he’s concerned about the March quarter. He noted that iPhone units were a bit weaker than expected but that the better than expected average selling price offset that despite the heavy currency headwinds.

The analyst noted something interesting on the earnings call, as the company guided for revenue to be at $76.5 million at the midpoint and expects iPhone units to grow in the December quarter. However, he has a difficult time understanding how the revenue guide “would make sense” if iPhone units grow—unless, he says, the average selling price of the device doesn’t get its “normal December quarter bump.”

He also noted that gross margins were guided down quarter over quarter even though the iPhone mix was better, which he believes might “spook some” However, he added that the improvements to the iPhone 6S line and foreign currencies are “meaningful headwinds.”

“Clearly, the risk/ reward looks more favorable in the shares after this quarter’s, results, which took any truly dire y/y scenarios off the table,” the Raymond James analyst wrote. “But we continue to be concerned enough about iPhone trends post-December to maintain our Market Perform rating,” he concluded.

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