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Apple Shares Fresh Off All-Time Highs -- What to Do With the Stock Now?

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With Apple (AAPL) - Get Free Report shares fresh off all-time highs, what's an investor to do with a stellar company that has seen its stock skyrocket?

On Monday morning, Apple shares hit $237 before settling at $236. The stock is up about 7.7% in the past month, while the S&P 500 has lost 1.2%. And for the year, Apple is up about 50%, putting the market cap around $1.07 trillion.

Apple Chairman and CEO Tim Cook said on Monday that iPhone 11 sales were looking strong. In the past few weeks, analysts have noted their sales checks show strong demand for the 11s, of which the simplest version is priced at $699.

Hardware still represents more than half of Apple's revenue and provides the platform on which consumers can access a slate of new services.

Meanwhile, some analysts have issued positive commentary on Apple's streaming ambitions, as it looks to compete with Netflix,  (NFLX) - Get Free Report  Disney (DIS) - Get Free Report and Comcast (CMCSA) - Get Free Report original content.

With the hardware business maturing, services still in their infancy and a sizable valuation, the stock now isn't exactly a sure bet for investors going long.

Let's explore this widely held stock.

Where Are We Now?

At its current level the stock trades at a forward one-year earnings multiple of 18.5. About a year ago, the stock traded at 12 times earnings, and many on Wall Street were saying the stock screamed buy.

Well, analysts, many of whom have had price targets of well above $200, were saying the stock should trade at roughly 20 times earnings.

The services business has a considerable growth profile and features much wider gross margins than the hardware business does.

Several analysts said the services business alone commands an earnings multiple of 25, while just the hardware business commands a multiple of anywhere between 13 and 16.

With services potentially accounting for more than half of Apple's earnings in the long run, the stock should trade at 20 times earnings, give or take (depending on the analyst).

We're almost there with the multiple of 18.5 times.

That doesn't mean the multiple can't expand from here. Growth in many of Apple's services is yet to be discovered.

But let's assume the growth in the stock price will come mostly from near-term earnings growth each year, as the valuation on the stock rolls over.

Earnings Growth and Buybacks

Earnings per share are expected to grow at roughly 12% for the next two years, according to analysts polled by FactSet.

A considerable portion of that will come from Apple's $100 billion share buyback, which began roughly two years ago. This helps to grow EPS, as shares are taken off the market.

Apple has roughly $200 billion in cash and equivalents and is expecting $61 billion and $67 billion in 2020 and 2021, supporting that plan.

But some may wonder if the current estimates on streaming have staying power.

Let's talk streaming first. Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives says Apple can accrue 100 million streaming subscribers in the next three to four years, stealing market share from Netflix, as Apple TV Plus is initially priced at $4.99 a month (albeit with less content to start).

D.A. Davidson & Co. analyst Tom Forte told TheStreet that he isn't worried about the initially low pricing and that Apple doesn't need to be a market share leader in time.

Streaming adoption, Forte says, is still very much on the rise, and streaming players can share the growth in that market harmoniously. Basically, subscribers will sign up for multiple platforms. That's a view shared by RBC Capital Markets internet analyst Mark Mahaney

As for the Apple Card and Apple's health-information software on the Apple Watch, Forte noted the hardware and software are beginning to complement each other seamlessly. 

The point: 

Apple may not be the high growth stock it once was. But it's got plenty of potential. 

Apple, Disney and Comcast are holdings in Jim Cramer'sAction Alerts PLUS Charitable Trust Portfolio. Want to be alerted before Cramer buys or sells these? Learn more now.

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