An iPhone X super cycle, a revitalized Chinese market and continued growth in the Services business could tip the scales in Apple's favor, making the $1 trillion market capitalization milestone achievable sometime in 2018, according to GBH Insights analyst Daniel Ives.
Though Apple crossed the $900 billion threshold for the first time on Nov. 8, its current market value sits at $877.9 billion. Its stock has recently been buoyed by strong fiscal second-quarter earnings and optimism around the 10th anniversary iPhone X (pronounced 'ten').
Shares of Apple ticked higher by 1% to $170.81 on Thursday morning. The stock is up 47% so far this year vs. the Nasdaq's 26% rise and the S&P 500's gain of 15%.
Apple is poised to sell more iPhone X, iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus models than it did during the peak iPhone 6 upgrade cycle, Ives said. This means Apple would sell an estimated 258 million iPhone units in 2018, surpassing the record-setting 231 million units sold in 2015 and kicking off a "healthy" iPhone X super cycle, he noted.
The iPhone X, which starts at $999, has pushed Apple's average selling prices (ASP) -- a key Wall Street metric -- significantly higher, representing a major growth catalyst for Apple in 2018, Ives noted. Further, more consumers seem to be gravitating toward the higher-end, 256 gigabyte version of the iPhone X. As a result, iPhone ASPs could reach $746 in 2018, compared to $666 in fiscal 2017.
Another catalyst for iPhone X sales is coming from a massive installed base that's looking to upgrade to next-generation devices. More than 350 million existing iPhone owners are likely looking to upgrade to newer models, due to the age of their device and the significant form factor changes in the iPhone X, Ives noted.
"It all comes down to the success and elongated demand trajectory of iPhone X over the coming quarters to determine if Apple finally ends up joining the elusive 'trillion dollar market cap club' in 2018 in our opinion," Ives explained. "To this point, the first stage of the iPhone X launch is off to a great start in what will be a crucial 'prove me' period for [Apple CEO Tim Cook] and Apple over the next year."
As Apple's iPhone ecosystem gets larger and larger, that could "unleash the next leg" of growth in its Services business, he noted. Ives projects that Services will top $50 billion in revenue by 2020, helped by the growing iPhone installed base.
Apple could also see a major turnaround in the Greater China market, an area where it has struggled to see growth for several quarters. Between 60 million and 70 million Chinese iPhone owners may be due for an upgrade in the next 12 to 18 months, with the iPhone X likely being the most popular device, Ives said.
"China's growth (and profitability) for Apple is key going forward as we view the next year as a critical time for Apple to show this will be a major growth region for the coming years," Ives added.
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Editors' pick: Originally published Nov. 17.