Apple Caps Online iPhone Orders Amid Supply and Demand Turmoil

Apple restricted online orders this week to two iPhones per model per person.
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Apple is limiting online iPhone orders as it grapples with ongoing challenges tied to the global coronavirus pandemic. 

iPhone buyers on Apple's online store are barred from placing large bulk orders, with orders limited to two per model per person as of this week amid ongoing supply and demand disruptions related to coronavirus. Apple AAPL shares closed 0.77% lower on Thursday at $244.78.

The buying restrictions apply to most newer iPhone models, including the iPhone 11 lineup, as well as the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone XR, CNBC first reported. Other devices, including the new iPad Pro models announced this week, also have purchase limits. 

Outside of China, the company is conducting online orders only for the foreseeable future. Apple said earlier this week that retail stores outside of China are closed "until further notice."

In the meantime, Apple has navigated severe supply chain disruptions within China owing to the pandemic, which originated in manufacturing-heavy Hubei province. 

China has reported greatly improved public health conditions, with authorities reporting no new local coronavirus cases on Thursday for the first time in several weeks. Factories have begun to re-open, but Apple's supply chain is still in the process of ramping up to full capacity. 

Apple investors often scrutinize details of online iPhone orders as one signal of its supply chain capacity -- though it's an "imperfect science," wrote Loup Ventures analyst Gene Munster in a note this week. 

Munster noted on March 17 that wait times for the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro 64GB had dropped to an average of 2 days versus 6.7 days on March 4, when China was still in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Historically, longer lead times have been viewed as a sign of high demand for a certain product. However, Munster pointed out that given the many variables involved, it's "impossible to know" whether current wait times are a function of supply or demand in the current environment. 

"Our guess is the majority of the lower lead times are related to the restart of production in China, and a minority of the improvement is from softening global demand," he said. 

Apple is a holding in Jim Cramer's Action Alerts PLUS member club