Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) has taken a bit of a breather this month after a terrific run. Apple stock gained 30% just between November and early March, and is up over 50% from late June levels.
The latter run, incredibly, has added about $250 billion to the market value of AAPL stock.
Part of the gains have come from the fact that AAPL was just too cheap, particularly below $100 this summer. But optimism toward the iPhone 8 has boosted hopes that Apple stock can jump-start growth. (The issues at key competitor Samsung Electronics (OTCMKTS:SSNLF), including the Galaxy Note 7 debacle, likely have helped as well.)
So the question now for AAPL is when the iPhone 8 is coming – and how much upside might be left from a successful launch and product cycle.
For now, it looks like there’s still some gains left for Apple stock … but investors might need to have some patience.
Will the iPhone 8 Move Apple Stock?
At the moment, it appears the iPhone 8 will be launched this fall, according to various reports. But Apple has said little about the launch, leaving a guessing game for observers and investors. Even the name isn’t clear: The next phone seems likely to be called the iPhone 8, not the 7S, but that’s not assured at the moment.
Most observers are expecting an iPhone 8, rather than a 7S, because the next-gen product will have major changes. The most notable was thought to be a curved OLED screen, but those reports have been questioned of late. Iris recognition, facial scanning, and a larger screen (on a phone of similar dimensions) are all expected to be features of various versions of the phone.
What might be most interesting for Apple stock is the price. On Monday morning, Instinet analyst Jeffrey Kvaal said supplier prices supported a possible $1,000 price for the new iPhone. Other reports of a high-end “Edition” have speculated an ASP over $1,200. Higher prices for iPhones mean higher margins for Apple — and likely a higher multiple for AAPL stock.
Will Investors Buy the Leaks and Sell the News?
The biggest worry ahead of the launch is if there will be a “buy the rumor, sell the news” reaction from investors.
It is clear that some of the optimism over the past few months, in particular, has been driven by consumer reaction to the leaked specs for the new iPhone. Indeed, Apple stock traditionally has been moved almost solely by iPhone sentiment. Sales of other products have been pretty much flat the last four years.
So if there is a large base of investors bidding up the Apple stock price ahead of the iPhone 8, the question then becomes: What might happen in September when the product actually is released?
The higher expectations get now, the greater the chance of a disappointment later. Every aspect of the new product will be dissected — and any rumored specs (like, say, the $1,000 price tag) that aren’t in the iPhone 8 will be considered a “miss” by Apple.
What’s Left for the iPhone 8?
With Apple stock back near an all-time high, that possibility would concern me over the next few months. For investors with a longer-term focus, however, there’s still reason to see upside in AAPL off the iPhone 8 launch.
Again, AAPL stock generally has matched up well with iPhone product cycles, and that should keep the stock moving upward if the launch and subsequent sales are a success.
Meanwhile, a big hit with the new iPhone could once again separate Apple from Samsung. It would also differentiate iOs from Alphabet Inc’s (NASDAQ:GOOG, NASDAQ:GOOGL) Android ecosystem more broadly. That in turn might allow AAPL stock to once again receive a growth multiple, instead of the low-double-digit-plus cash earnings multiple at which it currently trades.
In either direction, the iPhone 8 will matter, because the iPhone still is the major profit engine for Apple. Roughly 63% of fiscal 2016 sales came from the iPhone — and given margins, possibly a higher portion of profits. Apple needs a winner in the iPhone 8 to drive Apple stock higher. And while early speculation looks like the iPhone 8 will be a hit, the recent run in AAPL stock may have priced in at least some of that success.
Investors hoping for more likely will need to wait for September – and hope Apple has once again delivered on its promise.
The author has no position in any securities mentioned.