Apple Could Open Up Some U.S. Retail Stores In Early May

Most of Apple's retail stores worldwide have been closed since mid-March, depressing the demand picture for Apple devices.
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Apple  (AAPL) - Get Report may be looking to open up some of its U.S. retail stores in a matter of days.

Deidre O’Brien, Apple's retail chief, reportedly told employees on a call this week that "many" of Apple's retail stores will reopen in May, according to Bloomberg, though she didn't give a specific figure and said the company will analyze regional health data in deciding which specific stores to reopen. 

Those stores could include several at major U.S. malls, with CNBC reporting on Tuesday that Simon Property Group  (SPG) - Get Report, the largest mall proprietor in the U.S., is preparing to reopen 49 of its malls and outlet centers next week alongside various health precautions and limited hours. Specific retailers will also be left to decide if their own stores will reopen. 

Apple shares were down 0.6% on Tuesday afternoon to $281.48. 

Although reopening stores is a positive for demand for Apple products, don't expect a rush to stores and malls anytime soon, said Stephen Beck, founder of management consulting firm cg42, which studies consumer demand for tech. 

"Trips to the mall are a thing of January and February -- not March, April, and probably not May, either," Beck said. "We would expect that consumers are going to be avoiding spaces where there are large gatherings -- and they’re going to be dealing with a different economic environment, spending less at retail establishments, Apple included." 

Apple shuttered all of its retail stores outside of China in mid-March, exacerbating a sinking demand picture for the company's devices. Analysts are anticipating a sharp drop in device sales this quarter owing to supply and demand disruptions tied to the coronavirus pandemic, with consumers worldwide expected to spend far less on personal devices and other goods. 

Wall Street analysts have slashed sales estimates for Apple's sales in recent weeks owing to a sinking demand picture for device sales this year. 

Since the March store closures, Apple has reopened its retail stores in China as well as its flagship store in South Korea. Apple operated more than 500 retail stores worldwide as of 2019. 

In the meantime, Apple is taking other measures to boost lagging demand, such as offering discounts on phones in China. It also released a new version of the iPhone SE aimed at more budget-conscious consumers. 

Device sales in China, which accounts for roughly 15% of Apple’s overall revenue, appear to have rebounded relatively quickly as the coronavirus pandemic subsided in the country. 

Data released by China’s Academy of Information and Communications Technology indicated that Apple sold 2.5 million phones in March in China, representing a three-fold increase over February but still down about 20% year over year.

Apple investors will learn more about the demand picture for the company’s device on Thursday, when it reports its full first quarter results. But it may demur on providing forward-looking guidance, according to JP Morgan, partly owing to uncertainty on Apple’s retail operations.

“Given limited visibility on store operations, refraining from issuing specific guidance for F3Q should not come as a surprise to investors and will be consistent with recent precedent by other companies,” analyst Samik Chatterjee wrote.

Analysts are expecting sales of $54.8 billion and earnings per share of $2.29 for the quarter.

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