One of the trade war’s big victims could be Apple. While much of the trade war panic has been focused on other products, Apple could be the biggest victim to suffer. The the reason why may have more to do with sentiment than with tariffs. While there is much talk of Chinese “national champions”, Apple is undoubtedly an American national champion in China, and with sentiment souring against the US in the face of the trade war, it is likely that Chinese consumers will move towards purchasing domestic smart phones. Apple will be forced to raise prices because of tariffs, which would accelerate the trade. China accounts for about 18% of Apple’s revenue and a higher percentage of its profits.
FINSUM: There could be a big hit to Apple’s top and bottom lines here. China could also take measures to specifically wound Apple the way Washington has done to Huawei. Anything seems to be fair game right now.
HSBC just put out a big warning to investors—it is time to sell Apple stock. The news comes as a bit of a surprise because the iPhone maker has been performing well this year and there have been rumors of a big new push into healthcare. However, HSBC says investors should get out of the stock because Apple’s new services business will disappoint. The bank summarized its view this way, saying “Services makes ecosystem more sticky but won’t necessarily enable Apple to recruit more consumers to iPhone … All in, we remain far more cautious on services than some of the numbers in the street might suggest”.
FINSUM: Not only does HSBC think the new services offerings will disappoint on the top line, but they think they will be lower margin too! It is hard to speculate how this might go, but we do think this transition to services will be harder than many expect.
Apple has a big problem on its hands. While the company debuted its new suite of iPhones last year, with the largest and most expensive models getting much of the attention. One of Apple’s work horse phones, the lower priced iPhone XR, has not been selling nearly as well as Apple hoped. The phone, which is priced well under the top models, has particularly been facing weak sales in China, Apple’s most important market. Home grown competition has stolen much of the middle market which the phone is supposed to occupy.
FINSUM: This Wall Street Journal puts it nicely—the phone is being passed over by both bargain hunters and status seekers. In other words, it doesn’t have a niche.
In what comes as an almost apocalyptic announcement for Apple investors, President Trump indicated yesterday that he may impose a tariff directly on iPhones. When asked about whether he would do so, Trump said “Maybe. Maybe. Depends on what the rate is … I mean, I can make it 10%, and people could stand that very easily”. One analyst summarized the development this way, saying “The Street will not be taking this news lightly as with the litany of bad news Apple (and its investors) have seen over the last month … this tariff threat on iPhones out of left field from Trump and Beltway will surely add to this white-knuckle period for Apple”.
FINSUM: We don’t think this will happen. If Trump tried to raise iPhone prices 10% he would likely have a popular revolt (from both sides of the aisle) on his hands. He certainly doesn’t want that.
We have covered a lot of bear market indicators this year. Every investor is understandably wondering when the next bear might bite. So how about this for an indicator—Apple just entered a bear market. Now we know that Apple’s decline seems to be quite particular to its own situation—especially the fear over iPhone sales that were cemented by the company’s announcement that it will stop reporting such figures—but what if it is a leading indicator for the whole market? Apple is not alone among big companies either—over 40% of the S&P 500 was in its own bear market at the October low in equities.
FINSUM: We do not think Apple’s bear market in its self signifies much about the underlying market. Apple’s trouble really stems from one issue—one of the most successful products in history is finally starting to see slower growth as the result of its own spectacular success. We do not think that is a bear market indicator.