Apple Inc. (AAPL) PT Up As Carriers Drive iPhone 7 Demand

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Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) stock rallied through most of this week as investors stocked up on shares ahead of today’s iPhone 7 launch, following the typical “buy the rumor” pattern. However, not many are “selling on the news” today, as Apple Inc. (AAPL) stock edged lower by less than 1%. Investors seem set on hanging onto their shares going into the iPhone cycle much of Wall Street was bearish on – until reports of stronger-than-expected preorders of the iPhone 7 line started pouring in.

Several firms have now raised their price targets for Apple Inc. (AAPL) stock as assessments of the various aspects of the company’s business start rolling in. BTIG beat most of the others to the punch, raising its target on Thursday.

Apple (AAPL) stock target to $140 at BMO

In a report dated September 15, BMO Capital Markets analyst Tim Long said he has significantly raised his target for Apple Inc. (AAPL) stock, pushing it up from $116 to $140 per share. He also maintained his Outperform rating, and based on the rally we’ve observed over the last week, he either had to up his price target or downgrade the stock.

Today the shares are trading at around $115, but as recently as Monday, Apple Inc. (AAPL) stock was around $105. In fact, on Wednesday options investors were targeting next month heavily with bullish calls as Susquehanna’s derivatives team noted about 2 million options changing hands on that day, compared to the average of 500,000 contracts per day.

Long is encouraged by the comments from major U.S. carriers stating that preorders for the iPhone 7 have been strong, but he also reported that the carriers have been “promoting the device more aggressively” than he had expected them to. He explained that the carriers are “basically offering a new phone by allowing for a trade in of an iPhone 6 or later for $650 in credit, well more than those phones are worth today.” Meanwhile mobile carriers in Canada, Europe and Asia are “taking a traditional approach.”

He expects U.S. carriers to drive the upside in units in the next two quarters. He also believes the installed base is older this year for the iPhone 7 than it has been in other recent years, which he said also should drive a strong cycle.

iPhone 7 demand looks stronger than expected

Canaccord Genuity analyst Michael Walkley also raised his price target to $140, from $120 per share, and maintained his Buy rating on Apple stock. He increased his unit estimates for the iPhone 7 because he believes the replacement sales are better than he was expecting. Specifically, he believes Apple Inc. (AAPL) is launching off the massive install base it built up during the iPhone 6 and 6s cycles, pushing the install base past 500 million at the end of the 2015 calendar year.

He estimates Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s total installed base, including all devices, at more than 1 billion, which he said should drive strength in future replacement cycles, earnings, and cash flow generation, resulting in strong long-term capital returns programs extending to $250 billion through fiscal 2018.

Walkley now estimates that 28.4% of iPhone owners will upgrade to an iPhone 7, compared to his previous estimate of 27% upgrading to the iPhone 6s. This brings his new fiscal 2017 iPhone estimate from 221 million units to 226 million. For the 10-year anniversary of the device next year, which is expected to be the iPhone 8, he expects a new OLED display to drive an even stronger replacement cycle than the iPhone 7 this year. He estimates that 30.5% of iPhone users will upgrade to next year’s iPhone, so he pegs fiscal 2018 iPhone units at 246 million.

Carriers duel for iPhone 7 customers

On the topic of the aggressive carrier promotions, the Canaccord analyst mused that all four major U.S. carriers are working hard to steal valuable customers from their competitors. He noted that any consumer at the big four carriers who has paid off their installment plans for an iPhone 6 or 6s can receive a 32GB iPhone 7 essentially free after 24 monthly billing credits. He estimates that about 20 million U.S. consumers have paid off their iPhone 6 handsets, which makes the iPhone 7 offer a very attractive one.

Also Raymond James analysts raised their target for Apple Inc. (AAPL) stock from $129 to $139 per share. All these price target increases come the same month as Wells Fargo’s downgrade following the iPhone 7 unveiling.

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