With the recent bearishness in the tech sector, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has fared relatively well. Since late August, the AAPL stock price is off only about 4% or so. By comparison, both Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) and Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) are down 11%.
So does this mean the Apple stock may be a good value right now, especially since it has shown some durability? Well, for the most part, I think investors should be cautious.
Keep in mind that the latest iPhone announcement was kind of underwhelming. Aside from better cameras, larger screens and improved performance, there is not much that is a must-have. Admittedly, though, the new version of the Watch does look interesting in terms of the healthcare features (such as a full EKG).
And it’s true that the company has made strides in aggressively bolstering its services business, such as Apple Pay, iTunes, Apple Care, the iCloud and the App Store. In the latest quarter, the revenues came to $9.5 billion, up from $7.3 billion in the same period a year ago. These revenues are also generally recurring and sport higher margins compared to devices.
But when it comes to the AAPL stock price, the main driver is still the iPhone. And yes, there are reasons to be concerned. The market for smartphones is getting saturated and it seems likely that more consumers will not be as amenable to fork over $1,000 for a new device. This is probably why the new iPhone XR starts at only $750.
What’s more, APPL will need to contend with some worthy alternatives. One is Alphabet’s (NASDAQ:GOOG, NASDAQ:GOOGL) new Pixel 3. Based on media reports, it looks like it’s a winner and the device is reasonably priced at $800.
China and AAPL Stock
This week the Chinese government announced that there was a slowing of the national economy, with the growth of GDP at 6.5%. This was actually the weakest performance since the first quarter of 2009.
It does look like President’s Trump’s trade war is taking a toll. In fact, it seems like a good bet that the slowdown will not be temporary either, as it takes time for such policies to course through an economy. In light of all this, it should be no surprise that the Chinese equities markets have been in the bear phase this year.
But this should also be worrisome for AAPL stock. According to Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) analyst Rod Hall: “There are multiple signs of rapidly slowing consumer demand in China which we believe could easily affect Apple’s demand there this fall.”
The macro situation in China may be only just one of the factors. Note that the competitive environment in the country remains intense, with fierce operators like Huawei. Something else: With the aggressive tariffs, consumers in China may be showing their nationalism by saying “no” to Apple phones.
The Bottom Line On Apple Stock
It does not seem likely that there will be a sharp decline in Apple’s business. The company’s phone lineup is still solid, with a good range on the pricing. Again, the services business should provide stability and there will likely be growth with the Watch business.
But the problem is that Wall Street has been factoring in robust numbers, as the price-to-earnings multiple is at 19X. During the past decade, whenever the multiple has reached this level, there has been a sell-off.
So for now, it’s probably a good idea to be cautious with Apple stock. Even a slight underperformance, which could come from a combination of factors like competition and the problems in China, could mean that the AAPL stock may be vulnerable to further downside.
Tom Taulli is the author of High-Profit IPO Strategies, All About Commodities and All About Short Selling. Follow him on Twitter at @ttaulli. As of this writing, he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.