Has Tim Cook Lost Control of the Narrative on Apple?

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) has found itself in the strange position of having joined the ranks of those companies that have lost their own narratives. After the company’s earnings, CEO Tim Cook announced that Apple would no longer be offering up unit sales and guidance figures for the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch and Mac units. While this means that analysts and investors are going to have a long adjustment period to forecasting Apple’s numbers, it likely just means less clarity and more uncertainty.

While Apple may not be in anywhere close to as bad of a position as General Electric and other troubled companies, this is beginning to look ever more like Apple’s narrative is now being spun by the outside world rather than by Cook and corporate announcements. It is usually quite bad for a company when its stock price is driven by outsiders and other companies affecting the share price day in and day out. This often occurs without anything new being said and with repetitive commentary simply coming out each day.

After Lumentum issued lower guidance to cutbacks from a major customer (that would be Apple, according to numerous reports), there has been a big downgrade of expectations this week. Lumentum said on Monday that a top customer had asked it to materially reduce its shipments of laser diodes for 3D sensing.

A lowered target price from JPMorgan went to $266 from $270 on Monday, but this was actually the firm’s second target price drop in a month. The firm’s iPhone volume estimate was lowered to by 2 million to 214 million for calendar 2018, but the 2019 target was lowered by 10 million to 208 million for calendar 2019.

Now Apple faces another issue from Goldman Sachs analyst Rod Hall. On Tuesday morning, the analyst maintained his Neutral rating but lowered his price target on Apple by 13% to $209 from $240. Hall lowered the fiscal year 2019 revenue outlook by 3.5% to $269.94 billion. That is about $10 billion under the current consensus analyst targets. Hall also lowered the earnings per share target to $13.00 from $13.44 — about $0.45 under the consensus.

One issue that Goldman Sachs noted was that the declines in iPhone XR/XS Max/XS unit estimates offset increases in Apple’s lower-priced iPhone units. The total cut was a 5% slash to total iPhone unit expectations.

On Monday, Sanford Bernstein’s Toni Sacconaghi maintained his Market Perform rating and $210 price target, but he noted that current iPhone customers are likely to keep their iPhones longer than they have in the past due to the phones now being good enough for consumers to not feel a need to upgrade into every new phone.

Also on Monday, a top technology hedge fund manager Dan Niles came on CNBC and said he was still short Apple based on lower expectations ahead. Niles had been a critic of Apple after earnings, and this was just one more top former analyst turned hedge fund manager that was against Apple.

Other analysts have downgraded Apple as well, some with target cuts only but some with formal ratings cuts.

On November 2, Maxim maintained a Hold rating but lowered its Apple target to $212 from $221. On the same day, Merrill Lynch downgraded the stock to Neutral from Buy.

On the bright side, Wedbush issued a new Outperform rating and a whopping $310 price target in October before earnings. Also, Jefferies started Apple as a Buy with a $265 price target in October. And just last week, Morgan Stanley reiterated its Overweight rating and raised its price target to $253 from $226. So maybe not everyone on the planet is betting against the mighty Apple.

Apple shares fell 5% to $194.17 on Monday, but that was actually a three-and-a-half-month low. Apple shares were marginally lower on Tuesday to $193.45, in a 52-week range is $150.24 to $233.47.

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