How the Apple Analyst Brigade is Changing Its Marching Song

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Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) found itself in a perfect storm on Friday. After earnings were mixed, Apple’s guidance seemed weak even considering the history of sand-bagging that the company is known for. To make matters worse, CEO Tim Cook said that he is no longer going to offer so much detail on unit sales and deliveries for iPhones, iPads, Watches, Macs and so on.

While investors were obviously disappointed here, the obvious theme in the reaction is that investors worry that Apple’s move to services is not eclipsing the fears that Apple is moving more and more toward a replacement cycle at this time. And there are of course persistent fears about Apple’s ambitions in China.

24/7 Wall St. has tracked many analyst calls after Apple’s disappointing report at the end of the week. There is no way this covers all of the analyst targets, but here is how analysts are treating Apple’s ratings and/or price targets as of Friday.

BofA Merrill Lynch downgraded Apple to Neutral from Buy cut its target to $220 from $235. The firm’s synopsis sees risk-reward balanced as near-term risk is balanced by long-term opportunity, while there is a near-term risk from a slowdown in China. Currency and Forex is also making it harder for customers to buy in emerging markets, especially as the iPhone average sales price is much higher. BofA Merrill Lynch noted further that Apple’s valuation metrics remain compelling, but in the last down-cycle despite compelling valuation the stock retraced 30%.

Bernstein lowered its price target down to $210 from $225.

BMO Capital Markets maintained a Market Perform rating but cut the target down to $213 from $219. The team was disappointed that Apple will stop offering reads on its unit numbers and noted that investors don’t like less disclosure.

Morgan Stanley lowered its Apple target to $226 from $247 and said it sees multiple compression for other services companies and currency headwinds acting as a drag.

Raymond James maintained its Market Perform rating based on a good fourth quarter, but the company noted that Apple guided slightly light of consensus revenue and margins mainly because of currency issues and macro uncertainty.

UBS maintained its Buy rating but lowered its Apple target down to $240 from $250.

Wedbush Securities maintained its Outperform rating and $310 price target as its bullish thesis is unchanged. Wedbush’s report addressed the lack of unit see-thru and said:

The Street will find this a tough pill to swallow this morning as the transparency of the Cupertino story takes a major dent given that tracking iPhone units has become habitual to any investor that has closely followed the Apple story for the last decade+ and is critical to the thesis. As explained on the conference call we understand the logic of not providing these metrics anymore given that ASPs are all over the map and a slew of new smartphone releases has catalyzed Apple to focus more on overall segment revenue rather than myopic quarterly unit sales. However, the skeptics will point to Apple doing this right at the critical juncture where higher ASPs are making up for slower unit sales which remains the worry and the stock will get hit accordingly this morning. That said, while it’s frustrating how Apple (with no warning) decided to pull the plug on unit metrics, our core bull thesis does not change on the story and to some extent is emboldened by the ~$800 ASP story and a robust services business poised to hit $50 billion+ in FY20. While last night’s “Houdini-like metrics move” was a stunner, our core bullish thesis on Apple remains unchanged despite the noise.

Dan Niles, who runs Alpha One Capital Partners, appeared on CNBC saying that he was short Apple going into earnings and that he hoped the price would rise from the post-drop levels so that he could short more. Niles is a former Wall Street analyst who decided to use his technology expertise and knowledge to open a long/short technology hedge fund.

Apple shares were trading down 6.8% at $207.20 on Friday, versus a 52-week range of $150.24 to $233.47. Its market cap was still right at $1 trillion, without factoring in the share buyback impact that remains to be seen on lowering its share count.

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