Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) stock has rallied over the past month on irrational exuberance about the company’s upcoming streaming offering. The exuberance is irrational because, as I explained in a previous column, there are many reasons why Apple’s streaming offering is very unlikely to ever move the needle for Apple stock.
But even if I’m wrong, and the streaming product turns out be the savior of Apple stock, in all likelihood, it won’t be a major catalyst for AAPL stock right after AAPL reports its second-quarter results on Apr 30. That’s because the streaming product is not supposed to actually launch until this fall,
As a result, in the immediate aftermath of the company’s results, investors will probably focus on the likely year-over-year decline of its overall revenue and the continued anemic growth of demand for new iPhones.
Meanwhile, even some of the most outspoken bulls on Apple stock have indicated that AAPL stock has probably peaked for the time being. Furthermore, Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK.A,BRK.B) company owned nearly 250 million shares of Apple stock as of February, recently sounded very bearish on the outlook for the company’s streaming product.
So the main, positive catalyst that’s been boosting Apple stock shouldn’t be a factor in the wake of its Q2 results.With that catalyst on the back burner, most investors will probably focus on the company’s multiple problems and negative indicators. Here’s a list of four of those negative catalysts.
Apple’s Overall Revenue Will Probably Decline Year-Over-Year
AAPL has predicted that its Q2 revenue would be $55 billion to $59 billion. During the same period a year earlier, its top line came in at $61.1 billion. Although Apple’s guidance is known for being conservative, analysts’ consensus estimate for the company’s Q2 top line is $57.4 billion. Since analysts are very experienced with Apple’s guidance habits, the company’s top line probably dropped YoY in Q2. Such a decline would likely further undermine investors’ confidence in AAPL, putting pressure on AAPL stock.
There Are Multiple Signs That iPhone Revenue Growth Continues to Be Anemic, at Best
After AAPL reported that its iPhone revenue had tumbled 15% year-over-year in Q1, AAPL meaningfully cut the devices’ prices in both China and India. The significant price cuts indicate that iPhone sales haven’t exactly made a huge comeback in those countries. The same is probably true for other developing countries.
Meanwhile, multiple analysts have issued negative assessments of AAPL in general and iPhone sales in particular.
Last month, Longbow analyst Shawn Harrison warned that iPhone trends were moving “from bad to worse,” Fortune reported. The situation in China was particularly negative, the publication quoted the website as saying. Reiterating his “neutral” rating on Apple stock, Harrison added, “Without iPhone demand acceleration on the horizon, we currently do not see any catalysts near term to drive significant EPS upside.”
Furthermore, Forbes columnist Ewan Spence in late February noted that UBS had lowered its estimates of sales of AAPL’s most expensive iPhones by 3 million units. UBS raised its estimates of iPhone unit sales for the current quarter by 2 million.
But Spence pointed out that such a performance would lower Apple’s average selling price while potentially making the most popular Apple devices technologically inferior to their Android counterparts. JPMorgan, meanwhile, after speaking with Apple suppliers, expects iPhone revenue to decline for the current quarter.
Taking a much more upbeat view of Apple stock last month and this month was Morgan Stanley’s Katy Huberty — who is always upbeat on AAPL stock. In March, she wrote that demand for the iPhone in China was stabilizing, and in April the analyst stated that the growth of the number of iPhones in use in China had reached a 15-month high. Still, as I’ll show in the next section, even Huberty appears to think that Apple stock may soon run out of steam.
Even Apple Stock Bulls Are Getting Cautious
For all her optimism about AAPL, Huberty’s price target on Apr. 12 was $220, less than 10% above the current price of AAPL stock. And InvestorPlace’s Tezcan Gecgil recently wrote:
“Although I firmly believe that Apple stock will perform well in the long-term , on a short-term basis, it may be a good idea to take profits in Apple stock before the company’s earnings call on Apr. 30. …. Q2 numbers are likely to affect investors’ sentiment towards Apple stock and drive the share price for several weeks.”
Additionally, when asked about AAPL’s streaming project, Buffett recently was less than enthusiastic. “I’d love to see them succeed, but that’s a company that can afford a mistake or two,” Buffett told CNBC.
When even Apple’s biggest cheerleaders (and the owner of huge amounts of AAPL stock) express caution about AAPL, it’s probably a good idea for all investors to sell their AAPL stock for the time being.
iTunes App Store Workarounds Could Start to Sting Apple Stock
In a column published last November, I noted, citing TechCrunch, that “Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) has reportedly been testing a new system that will prevent its new customers in 33 countries outside the U.S. from using iTunes to pay for their subscriptions,.” If NFLX ever decided to implement that system, and other major app developers followed suit, AAPL stock could be meaningfully impacted, I showed.
Well, NFLX has taken that step for new subscribers, and The Financial Times has followed suit, while Spotify (NYSE:SPOT) had previously taken the step back in 2016. In all likelihood, many large and medium-sized apps have taken the plunge or will do so soon.
The Bottom Line on Apple Stock
The strong headwinds facing Apple stock are likely to come into much greater focus in the wake of the company’s Q2 results, pushing AAPL stock much lower. Meanwhile, even bulls have become cautious about Apple stock at its current, elevated level. Therefore, investors should take profits in AAPL stock ahead of its Q2 results.
As of this writing, Larry Ramer did not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.
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