Apple Inc.’s (NASDAQ: AAPL) shares are up 56.32% so far this year to $246.58. That outpaces all other members of the Dow Jones industrial average, which is up 15.56% this year to 26,958.06. Apple’s earnings announcement this week will tell whether its shares can continue a meteoric rise.
Apple’s stock increase has ridden the back of two developments. The new iPhone 11 has done better than expected, although the numbers are speculation by experts and not data provided by Apple. The other is that Apple’s bet on “services” as an alternative to rising hardware sales has gotten a boost from the belief of some investors in particular that its Apple TV+ streaming product will do well.
The new product launches were indeed the tonic the stock needed. It had sold down sharply in mid-summer after Apple announced earnings. The mainstay of revenue continued to weaken as the iPhone X series did poorly, particularly in the world’s largest wireless market, China. The trade war between China and the United States also dragged on the stock, as anxiety about Apple supply chain interruptions grew. Apple sources many parts of the iPhone from companies in China.
Apple’s management argued that its Services business would replace the iPhone as the company’s growth engine. It was not an easy argument to make, at least at first. Services revenue in Apple’s most recently reported quarter was $11.5 billion, out of a companywide total of $53.8 billion. iPhone sales totaled $26 billion. The coming earnings report will show whether the trend management says it has bet on continues to improve.
The launch of Apple TV+ is critical to the new strategy. Apple already has a huge music store. Its app store is by far the largest in the industry. By some estimates, more than 130 billion apps have been downloaded since the store began. Many experts believe that app sales cannot continue to grow at rates they have over the past decade. So video streaming becomes an essential part of the growth in this multimedia business.
All this means that Apple’s bet on TV is absolutely critical. At $4.99 for the first month, after a seven-day free trial, the service is aggressively priced compared to industry leaders Amazon and Netflix, which have price points of $12.99 a month. Apple’s management has gambled that, although its library of content is limited compared to the leaders, the low price, the Apple brand and the hundreds of millions of iPhones, iPads and Macs in the world are a huge base to which it can market its streaming service. Just as Apple launches its service, incidentally, Disney hits the consumer market with Disney+, which has programming from Disney, Marvel and a number of other popular franchises.
A significant number of investors have bought into Apple’s new iPhone 11 and services plan. Its market cap is back above $1 trillion. It was recently named the most valuable brand in the world again. When the company reports earnings, the announcement likely will be the catalyst to keep Apple’s share growth rate well ahead of the Dow’s — or to drag it back down.