Apple Inc. (AAPL - Get Report) is asking key iPhone assemblers to study moving some of their production facilities out of China, according to a Wednesday report from the Nikkei Asian Review, regardless of whether Washington and Beijing reach a trade pact in the coming months.
The paper said Apple has approached Foxonn, Pegatron Wistron and others to look at moving between 15% and 30% of their production capacity outside of the world's second largest economy, with options such as Mexico, India, Vietnam and Indonesia high on the list of alternatives. Last week, Han Hai Precision Industry Co., better known as Foxconn, told investors that "our production capacity outside China is enough to meet demand from the U.S.", while noting that the trade situation between the world's two biggest economies is "increasingly tough".
Apple shares were little-changed at the start of trading Wednesday at $198.52 each, a nudge that would take its month-to-date gain to around 13.5%.
Young Liu-Way, an incoming member of Foxconn's re-vamped board of directors, told an investor conference in Taipei last week that around 25% of the group's production capacity sits outside of China, allowing it the ability to "respond to (Apple's) needs in the U.S. market.
Apple CEO Tim Cook has said he doesn't expect China to target his company with specific tariffs, but several Wall Street analysts have warned of the impact they could have on Apple's most lucrative product.
Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Hubety said in a note published Tuesday that Apple's share of the China smartphone market installed based posted year-on-year gains for a fifth consecutive month in May to reach 19.5%.
"Combined with accelerating App Store growth in China, we believe this represents a constructive data point when juxtaposed against weak China demand environment late last year and investor
fears of a dramatic drop-off in near-term iPhone demand in China," Huberty wrote. "In our view,
iPhone price cuts, greater usage of financing vehicles, lower VAT taxes and Chinese consumer confidence that is up ~10 points from last summer (per the National Bureau of Statistics of China) are contributing to surprisingly stable demand trends."
Last month, however, Goldman Sachs analysts pegged the downside risk to Apple's earnings, based on its China exposure, at around 29%, adding that a move to restrict iPhone production in China would force it to move elsewhere, but cautioned that would take time and hurt profits.
"If there were a ban or some other restriction on Apple products in mainland China, we estimate that Apple's annual total EPS exposure is about $3.35/share," Goldman's Bala Reddy wrote. "We are not assuming restrictions on iPhone production in Mainland China at this point."
Goldman pegged the downside risk to Apple's earnings, based on its China exposure, at around 29%, a figure it said represents "100% of estimated Apple earnings exposure to Mainland China and Hong Kong combined with some offset assumed for Sales & Marketing cost savings." Goldman trimmed its 12-month price target on Apple to $178 from $184 with a forward price-earnings multiple of 14.7 time.
"Well, currently, the Chinese have not targeted Apple at all. And I don't anticipate that happening, to be honest," Cook told CBS News, adding that levies on iPhones assembled in China but shipped to the United States would likely impact sales of its most important product.