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Have we reached peak Apple? Some say the company is just getting started

By Emily Bary

A vast runway in 5G leaves many analysts feeling upbeat, even as Apple predicted a growth slowdown on latest earnings call

A standout quarter for Apple Inc. has analysts wondering whether we've seen peak Apple--or whether the smartphone giant is still "early" in its journey of smartphone dominance.

Shares of Apple (AAPL) are off 0.9% in Wednesday morning trading after the company easily exceeded expectations with its June-quarter results (link) but predicted that revenue growth would slow in the current quarter given expectations of greater impacts from supply constraints and a return to more normal growth for the red-hot services business. The stock was down as much as 2.9% earlier in the session before paring its losses.

Opinion: Apple's blowout earnings didn't help its stock, and here's why (link)

Apple has been viewed as a strong beneficiary (link) of the pandemic's digital boom, and Chief Executive Tim Cook addressed that topic in response to an analyst's question on the earnings call. He pointed to strong demand for Macs and iPads amid a shift to remote work, as well as greater interest in digital services, though he also noted that other services like advertising and AppleCare saw negative effects, while consumers may have hesitated to make "more complex" purchases of Apple Watches or iPhones.

The post-pandemic world "would be very good for us" and customers, he continued.

Still, the report and outlook ignited debate about how much juice is left in the Apple story. In a note titled "Strong Beat, But FY21 Likely Peaking," BMO Capital Markets analyst Tim Long called out the company's expectations for a growth deceleration, while also citing some broader concerns that give him pause on the stock.

Though Long boosted his price target to $142 from $134 after the report, he kept an equal-weight rating "mainly on headwinds sustaining current demand levels including [the iPhone 13] cycle, tougher comps on Mac/iPad, regulatory overhang (App Store, Google [traffic acquisition costs]) as well as fair valuation."

Citi's Jim Suva wrote that Apple had "nearly a perfect quarter," except for the fact that it didn't issue formal guidance for the September period. Apple's projection that sales will grow by double digits but at a lower rate than the 36% shown in the June quarter signals "a very wide range," he continued.

Suva noted that his estimates and consensus figures "will materially move higher" after the report and commentary. He maintained a buy rating and $170 target price on Apple's stock.

Numerous other analysts chimed in with upbeat takes about Apple's positioning in the "early" days of the 5G upgrade cycle.

Apple's strong results were "atypical" for what's usually the company's weakest quarter of the year, wrote Jefferies analyst Kyle McNealy, in what could be a more broadly positive sign for the company.

"We think this is representative of the continued traction they're getting with the 5G iPhone lineup," he said. "In our view, the Street still underappreciates that Apple's positioned to benefit from the 5G product cycle under way," with data from carrier T-Mobile US Inc. (TMUS) indicating still-low upgrade rates.

McNealy has a buy rating and $175 price target on the stock.

Wells Fargo's Aaron Rakers took a similar view. "With investors' focus now largely on the sustainability of demand trends into 2H2021 & 2022, we take the view that we are still in the early innings of the 5G cycle (limited countries with double-digit 5G penetration today) and believe consumer demand is likely to remain strong with a massive upgrade opportunity ahead," he wrote.

Rakers rates the stock at overweight and boosted his price target to $165 from $160.

Of the 44 analysts tracked by FactSet who cover Apple's stock, 33 have buy ratings, eight have hold ratings, and three have sell ratings. The average price target is $161.80, about 10% above current levels.

The stock, which reached a record close of $149.15 earlier this month, has gained 9.6% year to date, while the Nasdaq-100 Index has advanced 16.6% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average has climbed 14.5%.

-Emily Bary


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

07-31-21 1450ET

Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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