As Apple stock (AAPL) - Get Apple Inc. Report continues to hover around $150 apiece, one of the few skeptics on Wall Street has just published his most updated report. In it, he reinforced the idea that AAPL should be worth only $132, suggesting that shares have 12% of downside risk from here.
Today, the Apple Maven revisits Bernstein’s Toni Sacconaghi’s mildly bearish case.
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The not-so-bullish case
Mr. Sacconaghi has been cautious of AAPL since he downgraded the stock to neutral, in February 2018. The timing of his move did not prove to be the best, as Apple shares have climbed a whopping 285% in less than four years against the S&P 500’s 85% gains. However, the analyst has also helped AAPL investors think of the devil’s advocate argument.
In August, I reviewed Bernstein’s thesis in more detail. For the short term, the bank’s research team was concerned that Apple stock had climbed too fast in the first half of the year, ahead of a set of earnings seasons in which Apple would face tough comps.
Also, Toni has mentioned valuations as a key risk. While he believes that AAPL should be valued at a higher multiple than the S&P 500, the analyst questions how much is too much. Bernstein’s target P/E of 25 times is one to two turns lower than where the multiple is today.
Add App Store to the list
Now, the analyst has added one item to the list of worries: the App Store. Sacconaghi pointed out that a recent court loss will likely mean that payments will be allowed to be made outside the App Store platform in the US, starting as early as next month.
Bernstein’s expert has done the math. He estimates that nearly one-third of App Store revenues come from the United States. If the App Store accounts for 6% and 15% of total company sales and op profits, respectively, the payment issue could impact 2% of Apple’s revenues and 5% of op profits per year.
Apple Maven’s take
Regarding Toni’s earlier concerns, I believe that the risks have decreased substantially since AAPL peaked, in early September. Since then, investors have had time to fully embrace the more challenging late 2021-to-early 2022 period of tough comps and supply chain constraints. As I mentioned not long ago, valuations have de-risked to more reasonable levels.
Regarding the App Store, I have slowly shifted from more to less concerned about the financial impact. Morgan Stanley’s Katy Huberty has argued that App Store policy changes could shave a maximum of 1% or 2% of Apple’s EPS, which is not much at all.
Even Sacconaghi’s estimates of the financial risk only represents the worst-case scenario. In reality, much less than 2% of Apple’s revenues and 5% of op profits will likely end up being cut as a result of the App Store’s payment changes, as many users will continue to choose Apple as their payment platform of choice.
Bernstein’s Toni Sacconaghi sees Apple stock declining 12%, and he has recently cited the App Store revenue model as a potential problem. Do you share the analyst’s concerns?
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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)