I’ve been bearish on Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) stock a while now. Ever since Wall Street started pumping up this “Super Cycle” iPhone X narrative and saying that AAPL stock will head to $200-plus.
While the claim was that Apple was going to sell a trillion thousand dollar phones, I stepped to the sidelines, saying that if indeed Apple was selling that many iPhones, then I must be living under a rock.
Turns out, I’m not living under a rock.
Apple’s most recent earnings report highlighted that indeed iPhone X demand is not as strong as everyone thought. Because the iPhone accounts for far more than half of Apple’s total revenue, weak iPhone demand caused Apple to issue pretty dour guidance. The Street pulled down estimates. Analysts threw in the bull thesis. And AAPL stock dropped.
But it has come down quite a bit now, with recent weakness exacerbated by broader market weakness. All told, AAPL stock fell from $180 to $155 in a matter of weeks.
That is a big drop. Big enough to turn this bear into a bull. Here’s why.
Time to Buy the Dip in Apple Stock
My thesis on AAPL stock has been pretty simple.
It is a great company with a huge moat, a stable long-term growth narrative, and a reasonable valuation. Near-term expectations just got ahead of themselves because of “Super Cycle” talk. I said let the “Super Cycle” talk subside. Let the stock drop. Start buying when the earnings multiple came back to a more normal 14 to 16 range.
Well, thanks to broader market concerns about rising interest rates, AAPL stock dipped into that 14 to 16 trailing earnings multiple range recently. That was the time to buy. The stock bounced off those levels and is now trading around 16.8-times trailing earnings.
But it is not too late to catch this rally.
At 16.8-times trailing earnings and 12.4-times forward earnings, the sentiment on AAPL has now normalized. No one is pricing in an iPhone X “Super Cycle” anymore. Nor is anyone predicting super-charged iPhone growth over the next several years. AAPL is basically back to its normal self.
Its normal self isn’t too bad. After all, Apple stock has gone from $60 to $160 over the past five years.
Moreover, there are reasons to believe the underlying fundamentals at AAPL are actually better now than they’ve been in years.
The Apple Watch is on fire. It has recorded four consecutive quarters of 50%-plus growth. The more the Apple Watch grows, the more it seems like it is the only smartwatch in the world that people actually like.
The iPad business is bouncing back, posting its third quarter in a row of positive growth after a multi-quarter streak of declines. Better yet, the growth is being driven by new and switching users, who accounted for half of global sales last quarter.
This speaks to the broad ecosystem Apple has created within its line of smart products (smartphone, smart tablet, smartwatch, smart TV, and now smart speakers). Across this ecosystem, there are multiple cross-selling opportunities which Apple can leverage to squeeze more revenue out of each customer.
The most exciting part of Apple’s business, though, is on the software side. The Services business continues to ramp (up 18% year-over-year last quarter), with the company adding 30 million paying subs, the largest quarterly increase ever. Part of this big growth is Apple Music.
Rumors are swirling around that Apple Music might take over Spotify as the streaming music king by this summer, and that’s a big deal considering how large this market is.
Even on the iPhone side, things aren’t as bad as they seem. Yes, the company isn’t selling a ton of phones. But the ones they are selling are going for high prices. So the net effect on revenue is washed, but the higher prices carry higher margins.
The Services business also carries higher margins, so all in all, Apple actually has strong margin drivers in place for the next several years.
Now, let’s look at the numbers. Earnings estimates for this year are still hovering around $11.50. Given the higher iPhone selling prices, Apple Watch’s continued strength, and the ramp in Apple Music, those estimates seem fair to me. I also think that given the company’s favorable cash position, Apple stock deserves an above average 15-16 trailing multiple.
Throw a 15.5 multiple on $11.50 2018 earnings, and you get to a fiscal 2018 end price target of about $180. AAPL stock currently sits at $174. That leaves room for several price target upgrades over the next 8-10 months. But even 3% upside is good enough for me considering downside risk is mitigated by the huge cash balance and low multiple.
Bottom Line on AAPL Stock
I didn’t expect to be buying AAPL stock so soon, but it dipped into my buy range when the trailing earnings multiple fell below 16. Now that “Super Cycle” talk has subsided and the valuation has normalized, I think AAPL stock will head higher from these levels.
As of this writing, Luke Lango was long AAPL.