Recently, I laid out the arguments supporting Wall Street’s most bullish of theses on Apple stock. Some of the highlights included the doubling of services and wearables revenues in five years, the 5G super cycle, the greenfield Apple Car opportunity, and an acceleration in share repurchases.
Now, I look at the flip side of the coin. How would one support the most bearish argument on Apple shares? At least one analyst has compiled a laundry list of items that makes him fear for a 35% drop in the stock price from current levels.
Apple might be too hyped
Goldman Sach’s Rod Hall is one of those very rare Apple analysts that maintain a sell rating on the stock. While I have not come across research from him that is more recent than late January, most of his bearish points still seem relevant today.
For starters, Goldman does not seem impressed with the near-term smartphone opportunity. According to the research shop, the iPhone 12 resembles a “redesign cycle” rather than a more meaningful “5G super cycle”. As a result, iPhone replacement rates should be low in 2021.
Still on the same subject, Goldman projects ASP (average selling price) to come down this year, as buyers shift to cheaper models like the iPhone 12 mini and the iPhone 11. Here, recent data points have been suggesting the opposite: the mini seems to be the biggest loser within the product portfolio, while the Pro and Pro Max have been performing above expectations.
“The auto industry has generally lower gross margins than Apple's own current businesses. Tesla's gross margins are about 20%, compared to Apple's 40%. Operating margins are even lower, typically in the high single digits. Even in optimistic scenarios, the release of a production Apple Car is likely to have only a minor impact on Apple's bottom line.”
Lastly, the analyst believes that the end of the COVID-19 crisis will trigger a discretionary spending shift from tech devices (iPhones, Macs) to away-from-home services (travel and leisure). This could be a negative catalyst for the stock in 2021.
The Apple Maven’s take
In my opinion, the market is not the place to cheer for or against a stock. This is what sports arenas are for (after the pandemic is over, of course). So, I think that even the most confident of Apple investors should pay attention to the bearish case on the stock, and think through the arguments critically.
I think Goldman raises good points about the hype around the 5G super cycle and the Apple Car. Whether either can push Apple’s financial results significantly above current consensus remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the stock seems to have already priced some of the upside.
I also understand the risk in discretionary spending migrating away from tech hardware, software and services. Just as an example, air travel bookings for the summer season have already started to climb fast. Where will the money to cover these costs come from? A brand-new iPad could be one answer.
Still, the Apple Maven sees more upside to investing in Apple at current levels than downside risk. In addition to the bullish points on the business fundamentals, the valuation floor and dip-buying opportunity increases the probability that an investment in Apple today will pay off in the long term.
The most bullish analysts say that Apple could head to $225 per share, under the rosiest scenario. The most bearish of them says “not so fast”, and sees 35% downside risk. Who will be proven right?
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(Disclaimers: this is not investment advice. The author may be long one or more stocks mentioned in this report. Also, the article may contain affiliate links. These partnerships do not influence editorial content. Thanks for supporting The Apple Maven)