Easy for billionaire Carl Icahn to unload his 53 million shares of Apple (AAPL): He walks away with some $2 billion in profits. But investors who aren't in Icahn's ritzy shoes should consider going the other way: Buy Apple shares that are now selling at a 10 percent discount, which Icahn's exit helped bring about. But better act now before the stock snaps back, as several analysts see Apple shining again, perhaps hitting $133 a share.
Why should Icahn make all the money? For sure, plenty of other investors did make a pile from selling the stock they bought at about the price that Icahn did just a couple of years ago. Now down to just under $94, the stock is exactly at the spot where it was earlier this year, from which it later rebounded to $110. Icahn said Apple remains a "great company," but he's worried not only about the softening China market but the country's disconcerting regulatory attitude.
Icahn's move out of the stock added to the anxiety that investors felt after Apple announced second-quarter results that were roundly below analysts' expectations.
For the quarter ended in March 2016, Apple's revenue dropped 13 percent year-over-year to $50.6 billion, the first quarterly revenue decline since 2003. iPhone unit sales also fell, to 51.1 million, down 16 percent year-over-year, which Apple blamed on the soft China and other emerging markets. And iPhone's average selling prices fell 7 percent sequentially, reflecting currency headwinds from a strong U.S. dollar. Mac revenue fell 9 percent year-over-year, while revenue from "Other Products," including the Apple Watch, of $2.2 billion was also below prior estimates.
Also disappointing to analysts was Apple's third-quarter sales projection of $42 billion, well below Wall Street's forecast of $47.3 billion. So, at least 12 Street analysts have reduced their price targets on Apple, and some of them downgraded their recommendations on the stock to "perform" or "neutral" from "outperform."
Sanford C. Berstein's equity analyst Toni Sacconaghi said the iPhone sales guidance is "sobering," considering that Apple just launched the lower-cost iPhone SE, which the company had described as seeing "very strong demand." And Tavis McCourt, analyst at Raymond James, warned the shares "will remain range-bound" until signs of stabilization in revenue growth emerge. He cut his earnings estimate for fiscal years 2016 and 2017, and sees the stock trading at $104 a share over the next year.
But in spite such a chorus of disenchantment, many close watchers of Apple remain stalwart believers.
"Apple continues to face near-term microeconomic and currency headwinds," noted Brian Colello, equity analyst at Morningstar, but "we think the iPhone business and iOS ecosystem remain structurally sound and don't believe that Apple's lack of growth points to a weakening competitive position or loss of customer loyalty."
Indeed, it's not time to panic but time to be opportunistic. Apple's fundamentals and financials remain rock-solid, and the company is in a situation that's not much different from others that encounter various challenges. The big difference is when it comes to this tech icon, everything about it is scrutinized to the last detail.
Colello still foresees a "rebound" in revenue and iPhone unit sales, perhaps "as soon as this fall with the iPhone 7." Yet with the shares down as much as they are, "we think Apple is priced as if the iPhone has already peaked and is facing a prolonged secular decline," said Colello. But while the iPhone no longer appears to be a high-growth business, he added, "we continue to believe demand will remain more resilient than what the firm's stock price implies, as customer-switching costs around the iOS ecosystem remain strong, in our view, and have the potential to expand over time."
Colello, who still estimates Apple's fair value at $133 a share, said "we continue to view Apple as one of our best long-term investment ideas within the tech sector."
Michael Wakeley, equity analyst at investment firm Canaccord Genuity, said "overall weaker-than-expected iPhone demand, continued U.S. dollar strength and customers waiting to upgrade to iPhone 7 contributed to the weak guidance." And Oppenheimer's Andrew Uerkwitz, who has downgraded his rating on Apple to "perform" from "outperform," said iPhone sales will remain weak until the launch, likely in late 2017, of the rumored iPhone 8, which is expected to feature new camera designs and support for mobile virtual reality headsets.
Of course, Apple CEO Tim Cook remains optimistic on many fronts. He said iPhone sales remain "healthy and strong" and that Apple continues to see a high level of people switching from Android smartphones. Apple is attracting many first-time smartphone buyers and people upgrading from older iPhones, he noted.
Cook believes the lower iPhone sales result from macroeconomic issues and difficult comparisons to the extraordinary iPhone 6 cycle, which met a huge pent-up demand for larger-screen phones. In addition, sales in China slowed in the second quarter. Total revenue from Greater China, which includes Taiwan and Hong Kong, declined 26 percent to $12.49 billion in the second quarter.
One segment that showed high marks during the second quarter was the services unit, which includes Apple's AppStore, Apple Music, Apple Pay and iCloud: Its sales jumped 20 percent to $5.99 billion. It's now Apple's second-largest business segment after the iPhone. Services, which produces high margins, accounted of 12 percent of total revenue in the second quarter. Gene Munster, analyst at Piper Jaffray, noted that services' margins are "likely 60 percent or higher at the gross level, and in the 40 percent range moving to 50 percent at the operating level."
Said CEO Cook: "We feel really great about the early success of Apple's first subscription business, and our music revenue (including iTunes) has now hit an inflection point after many years of decline."
Indeed, the services segment represents one of the most important parts of Apple at this point. Its main function "is to create the ecosystem that allows Apple to charge premium hardware prices," said Steven Milunovich, equity analyst at UBS.
Despite the widespread concern over the second-quarter results, one bull who hasn't wavered in his positive view of Apple is Angelo Zino, equity analyst at S&P Global Market Intelligence, who rates the stock as a "strong buy" with a 12-month price target of $130 a share. His optimism, he said, "primarily reflects Apple's compelling valuation, trading at about 10 times projected 2017 earnings and seven times excluding net cash." He also believes growth will resume following the launch of the iPhone 7.
Despite near-term headwinds, Zino believes Apple remains well-positioned given its high customer-retention rates and 1 billion installed devices. He's also optimistic about an iPhone 7 launch later this year.
"We positively view long-term opportunities through expansion into adjacent markets and see greater contributions from services," said Zino, who asserted that the bottom line is Apple's "superior ecosystem and new product launches will be enough to sustain high iPhone customer retention rates."