During a trading session dominated by Apple Inc. (AAPL) , it seems appropriate to delve into the ever-changing moods of Tim Cook, its fearless leader.
Since taking the helm from Steve Jobs, the quiet Alabamian has carefully fostered a new Apple. The company is less focused on innovation, and more consumed with profitability.
That is not necessarily a bad thing, but is a warning sign for investors.
The warning comes from Cook's reliance on financial engineering to keep the profit train at Apple on track. In the past, I have written about the share buybacks. These purchases, a financial engineering technique, have contributed mightily to Apple's near-$1 trillion valuation.
Critics argue that money would have been better spent on research and development. While Samsung (SSNLF) is building foldable devices, screens with embedded fingerprint sensors and 5G handsets, Cupertino is focused on color variants of their family of iPhones. It is depressing, given the history of the company.
Sadly, the master plan under Cook is now in full view. Apple will continue to raise prices to offset falling unit sales growth. The brand is moving upscale. The calculus is they can sell enough expensive iPhones, iPads and Macs to offset the coming free fall in unit sales.
There is risk with this strategy. In a world where populist sentiment is growing, smartphones that routinely cost as much as a used Toyota have the potential to become elitist symbols. This will likely lead to a backlash.
The news on Monday was the first of what I believe will be many negative corporate announcements. Specifically, Lumentum (LITE) , an Apple supplier of the sensors needed to build Face ID unlock, slashed its sales forecast. The culprit is weak demand at a major customer, wink, wink.
Everyone knows that customer is Apple. And since all of the iPhones now come with Face ID unlock, there is nowhere to hide. iPhones are clearly not selling as well as they have in the past. Unit names are now an alphabet soup of X's and R's and S's, showing that its vaunted marketing department has lost control of the message.
What could be the reason? I wonder. Maybe it's the fact that the "budget" iPhone now costs $750. A souped-up top-of-the-line device will cost $1,500. It's crazy.
And the strategy is not confined to iPhones. Last week, Cook revealed next generation iPads, MacBooks and Macs. Everything got a price bump. Customers are balking, obviously.
I doubt they are leaving the Apple ecosystem. It's still far too tough to give up Facetime and other Apple perks. Patrons are probably deciding their old device is good enough for their needs.
Apple is a hardware maker that dreams of being a services company such as Netflix (NFLX) or Disney (DIS) and receiving the higher price/earnings multiple that those companies get. So far Mr. Market is saying it doesn't believe that Apple can pull that off, and is punishing its ambition, as well it should. Apple has always been terrible at services.
The stock closed a blink above its rising 200-day moving average on Monday. The stock could test that level, $191, during upcoming sessions. Buyers will probably step up at that level, but if they don't -- watch out below.
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