Merrill Lynch’s Bull/Bear Argument for Apple in 2018

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Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) saw an incredible return in 2017, and the iPhone giant looks to be on track for another incredible year, according to one analyst. Overall the stock gained nearly 50% in 2017 alone, beating out all the broad markets. Most analysts are tripping over themselves raising their price targets on Apple, but at some point this stock will have to run on something other than analyst upgrades. Until then …

Merrill Lynch raised its price target to $220 from $180, implying 25% upside from the most recent closing price, $176.19. The firm expects a strong year for Apple, considering its cash repatriation, iPhone average selling price (ASP) and gross margin upside. Merrill Lynch does not expect growth in gross profit dollars to turn negative this cycle versus prior cycles. Significant upside remains to calendar 2019 EPS estimates, given both unit and ASP increases for iPhones and improving services mix.

Merrill Lynch divvied its report up giving a bull/bear argument for where this stock stands. Separately, 24/7 Wall St. has compiled its own bullish and bearish case for where Apple could go in 2018.

The firm gave its bullish case as follows:

We view 2018 as a year that could witness the largest cash repatriation with Apple potentially repatriating $240bn. Bulls focus on (1) Using cash for M&A, buybacks or dividend increases; (2) A smoother iPhone cycle with two years of unit and ASP growth; (3) Upside to gross margins as iPhone ASP, Services mix, commodity pricing are tailwinds; (4) Continued strong growth in Services; (5) A larger OLED (organic lightemitting diode) phone in 2018 with rear 3-D sensing that broadens the product line further; (6) increased adoption of AR/VR driving Apple’s lead further; and (7) HomePod, increased content, innovation around autonomous and AI.

The bearish argument:

Bears expect pressure on shares driven by (1) Decelerating mix of iPhone X as higher ASP creates demand headwinds post initial launch uptake; (2) gains at the lower end of the portfolio create less mix-adjusted ASP uplift than prior assumptions; (3) Demand for iPhone X likely to roll over earlier relative to iPhone 6 cycle; (4) China demand for iPhone X likely weaker beyond initial ramp given higher ASP; (5) Significant positive revisions in the last 12 months reflect run-up in shares and there is higher risk to negative revisions as 2018 iPhone is likely incremental; (6) A potential flexible OLED phone from Samsung in 2018 can create share headwinds; and (7) potential backlash on iPhone slowdowns.

Shares of Apple traded at $175.67 on Wednesday, with a consensus analyst price target of $186.87 and a 52-week range of $119.37 to $179.39.