Between strong holiday demand for its products and a newly inked China Mobile Deal, Apple (AAPL) — the fallen-from-grace tech darling — is taking center stage once again.
In fact, AAPL stock recently dug its way back into black for the year-to-date period thanks to a 26% climb since mid-September. Those recent gains for Apple stock are nearly four times those of the broader market.
As a result, lot of talking heads — including a few here at InvestorPlace — have jumped back on the AAPL bandwagon, saying that it’s once again time to snatch up Apple stock.
But while the deal with China Mobile (CHL) is promising and Apple does continue to make great products, I’m still skeptical that AAPL stock is worth your money in the current mid-$500 range.
Here are three reasons why Apple stock is still a sell.
Apple Stock Needs a New Leader
To start, since the passing of Steve Jobs, I’ve had a ton of concerns over the new CEO of Apple: Tim Cook. In fact, Tim Cook is the main reason I’m suggesting investors pass on Apple stock at current levels. I have plenty of nit-picky details that make me question AAPL, but the current Apple CEO is giving me the greatest heartburn.
See, I buy a company’s stock not only because it has great products and great financials, but because the company’s stewardship is visionary. That’s what AAPL stock had under Steve Jobs … but that’s not what current Apple CEO Tim Cook brings to the table.
Apple founder Steve Jobs changed the way we thought about computers and mobile phones, offering wholesale reinventions of our experience. The same goes for the Apple TV, and the Apple iPad … and just about every other Apple product. I trusted Jobs to deliver these innovations … and trusted that AAPL stock would, in turn, benefit.
On the other hand, I have no idea what new Apple CEO Tim Cook brings to the table for AAPL stock. I also don’t like that he’s engaging at all with Carl Icahn — not because Icahn isn’t a great investor, but because Carl Icahn is about making money for himself. He adds nothing but distractions and pressure to Tim Cook and Apple stock that I frankly don’t like.
Apple Stock Needs a New Strategy
Our next reason to sell Apple stock goes hand-in-hand with the first: Some AAPL business practices are simply baffling.
To start, have you ever noticed that, if you want to buy an Apple product, there are never any coupons? Outside of an educational discount of 10% or so on most products, you simply cannot clip anything from anywhere, walk into an Apple store and get a discount. Nor are there any sales.
Yeah, yeah — that’s because the Apple brand (and in a way, AAPL stock) is built on the fact that the company makes unique, premium products. Except for one little problem: Now you can buy Apple products in Best Buy (BBY) and Walmart (WMT) at a discount.
This is a terrible strategy for Apple stock. I know it’s meant to drive up volume, but it damages the Apple brand and the company image. Toss in the Apple Maps app flop and a pointless iOS 7 update, and you have reason to question several recent moves by AAPL.
Apple Stock Needs to Go on Sale
For the cherry on top, Apple stock also has some weak valuation metrics. AAPL has about $135 per share in cash, giving Apple stock an effective price of $430. Meanwhile, fiscal 2014 Apple earnings are expected to tally $43.47 per share, meaning AAPL stock trades at a P/E of about 10 on EPS growth of about 10%. For a growth stock, AAPL isn’t really growing that robustly anymore.
Sure, free cash flow is fantastic ($45 billion in the last fiscal year), and the company is on very solid financial footing. But that brings us back to the company’s leadership. Normally I would give a name like AAPL a premium for its high cash balance and great free cash flow. Instead, CEO Tim Cook erases the premium I’m willing to give Apple stock.
The Bottom Line for Apple Stock
I think the time to buy Apple stock will be when (or if) some existential event drives the price down to the mid-$400 range again, as it did in September. Another thing to do is to just engage in some swing trading.
For now, however, I wouldn’t buy Apple stock. I think Amazon (AMZN) has more definitive upside than AAPL, and a CEO you want to be invested with. I’d even suggest Starbucks (SBUX) for the same reason.
As of this writing, Lawrence Meyers did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.