The Trump administration's ongoing trade conflict with China has taken investors on a wild ride over the past year, but there was good news for Apple investors this week. The White House announced a postponement of a planned 25% tariff on laptops, cell phones and other electronics until Dec. 15; Apple shares are up 2.7% since the tariff reprieve was announced.
"It goes to show it's a fluid situation -- there seems to be a lot of movement, and just when you think a direction has been set, things change," said D.A. Davidson analyst Tom Forte.
As just one example of the complexity in weighing the overall risk of tariffs, it also came to light this week that Apple Watch -- a rising star of Apple's hardware portfolio -- will be subject to a 10% tariff come Sept. 1, along with AirPods and Home Pod.
A reprieve from iPhone tariffs is an obvious plus for Apple. In early August,, Bank of America analysts estimated the earnings hit from the tariffs at roughly $0.50-$0.75 per share; the tariff reprieve gives Apple essentially a full year of iPhone and other electronics sales free from additional tariff impacts.
"While the U.S. government is trying its best to use tariffs to improve its negotiating leverage with the Chinese government, this is a reminder that the consumer electronics companies in the U.S. still have very significant influence on policy," Forte added. It isn't clear if Apple played any direct role in the tariff reprieve, but it is conceivable that there was some manner of influence at play.
Apple CEO Tim Cook was slated to dine with the president Friday evening, according to a Trump tweet.
There may be another silver lining to the trade uncertainty, according to Forte.
"Apple benefits tremendously from low expectations, and the trade war has done nothing but lower them," he added. "It's created a benevolent environment for the stock."
Apple currently trades at the lowest multiple of the FAANG grouping; as of August 15, Apple's price-to-earnings ratio was 17.28, substantially less than Amazon (AMZN) - Get Report (73.15), Facebook (FB) - Get Report (30.46), or Alphabet (GOOGL) - Get Report (22.42).
Forte isn't alone in pointing out the signs of low expectations around Apple shares relative to other tech giants.
With Apple gradually shifting the narrative away from iPhone sales and onto services and other products, notably wearables, more bullish analysts believe Wall Street hasn't totally caught up to the new reality.
"Keep in mind, in the most recent quarter, Apple earned 2x more than Facebook and Amazon combined and has over a billion daily active users," wrote Loup Ventures' Gene Munster of Apple's most recent quarter, which demonstrated strong growth in services and wearables revenue as well as a modest return to growth in China.
On a July 30 investor call, CEO Tim Cook was upbeat about Apple's China prospects, and about the business overall, telling investors "we feel very good about the trajectory."
A confluence of factors led to the improvement: a Chinese government stimulus, a trade-in programs and other proactive pricing action by Apple, and "growing engagement with the broader Apple ecosystem" according to Cook.