It’s lonely being a bear on Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL). Time and time again, I have warned that the big forthcoming catalyst propelling AAPL stock higher — huge iPhone X sales — won’t be as big as everyone expects. And yet, the market’s biggest company has just gotten bigger.
Not too long ago, AAPL stock was making all time highs around $180. That put Apple’s market cap over $900 billion. You can almost hear the bulls salivating over the idea that Apple will be the first trillion dollar company.
But I don’t think a trillion dollar market cap is in the near future for Apple.
Why? Because iPhone X sales will disappoint. 2018 iPhone numbers won’t be super-charged, they’ll just be normal. That won’t kill AAPL stock (this is an impressively resilient bull market), but it will act as a cap on how much higher AAPL stock can go.
Beware of iPhone X
I have said time and time again that expectations for the iPhone X are far too high. Most analysts and investors think that the $1,000 smartphone with face recognition software will catalyze some sort of super-charged iPhone adoption cycle. Everyone will need an iPhone X. We will all rush out to buy one. And that’s that.
Personally, I hardly know anyone who actually has an iPhone X. Or an iPhone 8 for that matter. If this super-cycle is indeed happening, I must be living under a rock.
Moreover, the last time AAPL analysts and investors were throwing around the “super-cycle” term was back with the iPhone 6. Back then, everyone I knew bought a new iPhone 6 because of the bigger screen size. It was a must-have product.
But even then, despite the huge success of the iPhone 6, AAPL stock still failed to hold its rally. Why? Because as opposed to everyone buying the iPhone 6S in 2015, a lot of people just stuck with the iPhone 6. iPhone sales were essentially flat during the holiday 2015 quarter after huge growth in 2014.
In other words, even the wildly popular iPhone 6 didn’t catalyze some sort of multi-year, upgrade super-cycle in iPhones. Why would the over-priced, not-too-different iPhone X?
Analysts are starting to catch on.
J.P. Morgan has turned bearish on early 2018 iPhone shipment numbers, saying that “high-end smartphones are clearly hitting a plateau this year.” KeyBanc says sell-through for the iPhone X has been disappointing due to price tag and limited production. Bernstein expects iPhone sales to drop meaningfully from the December quarter to the March quarter. All this follows Taiwanese media outlets reporting a sharp slowdown in iPhone X demand.
Overall, it looks like 2018 iPhone numbers will just be normal. They won’t be super-charged like bulls think. And “normal” iPhone sales is a big risk to the stock because its trading at an abnormal valuation (19x earnings currently versus 5-year average of 14x).
Bottom Line on AAPL Stock
It’s tough to see AAPL stock falling dramatically as long as this tax reform and global-economic-recovery-inspired bull run in equities continues. AAPL is the market’s largest company. The company has the ability to repatriate a bunch of overseas cash and put that cash to work. They also win when consumers are spending more on music, headphones, smart speakers, tablets, and computers. Plus, the company has burgeoning Services and smartwatch businesses.
In other words, so long as the economy remains healthy, the consumer remain strong, and stocks remain high, AAPL stock won’t fall dramatically.
But its equally tough to see AAPL stock heading much higher (if at all higher) if 2018 iPhone numbers are just normal and not super-charged. This stock is priced for super-charged numbers. Normal numbers will dilute enthusiasm and put a cap on valuation.
As such, I think AAPL stock looks risky here. I’m not calling for a major sell-off, but I don’t reasonably see how this stock heads much higher from here over the next 6 months if iPhone sales numbers are weak.
As of this writing, Luke Lango did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.