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Why US Attorney General William Barr's attacks on Apple are being ignored by investors

Brian Sozzi
Editor-at-Large

Stay focused on Apple’s fundamental outlook, not the noise emanating from U.S. Attorney General William Barr’s office down in D.C.

That’s the message from Apple (AAPL) investors dealing with their first mini controversy of 2020 for the tech beast. Apple continues to fight off attempts by Barr to help law enforcement to access encrypted devices. The latest attempt by Barr came this week, amid a call to access the phone of Second Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani. Alshamrani is the gunman that opened fire at a Naval air station in Pensacola, Fl. last month that wounded eight and killed three others.

President Trump also weighed in on the dustup via Twitter.

“We were devastated to learn of the tragic terrorist attack on members of the U.S. armed services at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida on December 6th. We have the greatest respect for law enforcement and routinely work with police across the country on their investigations. When law enforcement requests our assistance, our teams work around the clock to provide them with the information we have. We reject the characterization that Apple has not provided substantive assistance in the Pensacola investigation. Our responses to their many requests since the attack have been timely, thorough and are ongoing,” Apple said in an emailed statement to Yahoo Finance.

“We are continuing to work with the FBI, and our engineering teams recently had a call to provide additional technical assistance. Apple has great respect for the Bureau’s work, and we will work tirelessly to help them investigate this tragic attack on our nation,” Apple added. “We have always maintained there is no such thing as a backdoor just for the good guys. Backdoors can also be exploited by those who threaten our national security and the data security of our customers. Today, law enforcement has access to more data than ever before in history, so Americans do not have to choose between weakening encryption and solving investigations. We feel strongly encryption is vital to protecting our country and our users' data.”

Apple has long viewed encryption as instrumental in one’s privacy, and also a key selling point for its devices. If it were to unlock anyone’s phone, it could go a long way to damaging the Apple brand and possibly its bottom line.

A big year ahead for Apple

“Our outlook is very positive on Apple [this year],” Sevens Report Research founder Tom Essaye said on Yahoo Finance’s The First Trade.

Essaye said Apple’s innovations in hardware and services are more important than political considerations, and that he expects a big year in terms of new products. “I don’t think this political scandal is anything to worry about. I would buy Apple on that dip. We saw this several years ago with the shooter in California. This is an ideological struggle. Apple will stick to it, but I don’t think this changes the fortunes of the company going forward.”

Apple’s stock has continued to power to fresh highs in 2020 in the face of Barr’s efforts and Trump’s new Twitter tirade. With the fundamentals of Apple potentially on an upswing in 2020, investors such as Essaye are clearly making bets ahead of that unfolding.

"We believe Apple’s ecosystem approach, including an installed base that exceeds 1.4 billion devices globally, is leading to record services revenue, and we expect the higher margin services revenue growth to continue outpacing total company growth,” wrote Canaccord Genuity analyst Michael Walkley in a new note Wednesday. Walkley raised his earnings per share estimates on Apple for 2021 and took up his price target to $355. He maintained a Buy rating on Apple.

Apple’s stock currently trades at about $313.

“We are also encouraged by the strong demand for the iPhone 11 lineup and believe Apple will maintain its market share leadership of premium-tier smartphones that could be bolstered by a 5G upgrade cycle,” added Walkley. “Further, Apple has market share leading positions in wearables with Watch and AirPods, and both have strong sales and growth momentum."