Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) has been a phenomenal growth story. It is the ultimate turnaround story of mega-proportions. The stock is also up 32% so far in 2012. The problem is something else… Apple is now down over $100 from its $644.00 absolute high just on April 10, 2012. In a mere 26 trading sessions the shares have fallen more than $100 down to under $536.00.
The market value is still the largest of any public company at $501 billion, but the market value is now down almost $100 billion from the actual peak. We have reported on two recent occasions how weak iPhone sales projections from analysts seem to be the big concern. Both reports indicate that the iPad will save the day, and the latest earnings report showed that China really saved the day (with purchases rather than cheap labor).
The consensus analyst target on Apple is now above $708.00 and that implies another 32% upside if the analysts are right. Some analyst calls even target $1,000 (and higher) for Apple stock. At that rate, it becomes cheaper to buy Apple’s products than it does to buy 1 share of Apple stock.
Maybe this is the peak valuation concern coming into play as well. Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ: MSFT), which ultimately may have saved Apple with a Gates-led investment, reached up close to the $600 billion or so at the peak in 2000. Cisco Systems Inc. (NASDAQ: CSCO) also reached about $350 billion.
General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) peaked somewhere around the $475 billion valuation. Exxon Mobil Corporation (NYSE: XOM) also peaked out above $500 billion during the energy bubble run-up, but that has not been seen since and the current market value is about $385 billion or so. The common theme is that all of these values have come crashing down.
There is one thing to consider here in the ‘mega-cap valuations and that is that Exxon Mobil is the only stock that had a low valuation like Apple still has. In fact, Apple now trades at only about 10-times the Fiscal 2013 earnings estimates now that it has pulled back over $100. Its multiple is even less than that if you back out the $100+ billion treasure trove that the company has.
The focus ahead has to be on Apple TV. iPad and iPhone sales may only be able to go so far, and now it will be up to the new devices. One concern we have is that the story of the Mac is a lost one. Honestly, when was the last time you heard anyone focused on Mac sales in the last few months? It is all about iPads and iPhones, which are actually cannibalizing what would have been Mac sales, and the talk remains around Apple TV.
One issue to consider is that certain funds have had to lighten up in Apple shares. The large institutional sales orders have not been very evident in recent months, but the reality is that Apple started to become too heavily weighted for many non-index fund managers. To prove this in the NASDAQ 100, the PowerShares QQQ (NASDAQ: QQQ) has close to an 18% weighting in Apple. We have seen one estimate that only about one-third of the share selling was tied to large funds and hedge funds, although that no longer be the case since that data is 45 days old (or longer).
What seems to be at work is simply a change of heart. The stock was weak ahead of May and the stock was still above $600 as recently as April 27. Still, the psychology of “Sell in May and go away!” has been exaggerated due to the woes of Europe, the slowing growth of the BRIC nations, and weakening U.S. economic data.
Another concern may be that Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ: MSFT) is being favorably treated going into the Windows 8 launch later this year. All of the companies in technology are talking this up. It is even possible that investors are unloading shares just so they can buy up Facebook shares after the IPO on Friday.
Apple is not expensive at all. The question is whether or not it can be maintained. When you are paying 10-times for future earnings today, that implies that you are paying for earnings out about ten years on a static basis. All that is happening after the massive run that has been seen over the last decade is that the growth rate cannot be maintained indefinitely.
This sentiment won’t last forever, but the focus is elsewhere for the time being. Will Apple hit $500 or even lower? Maybe. As long as the market does not really tank and as long as we do not enter a second recession, the consensus is that Apple’s stock still has a lot of room to rise after the dust settles.
JON C. OGG