It was a big year for Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) in 2013 -- albeit a fairly predictable one. Importantly, Apple has minimized some worries by proving it can still boost sales on a year-over-year basis and by stabilizing its declining margins. But, unfortunately for investors, the market still isn't giving Apple stock much respect. Has the Street lost faith in Apple's ability to consistently deliver blockbuster products? After all, the rumor mill's iWatch was never unveiled, and the iTV never made its debut.
The market doesn't have big expectations for Apple. Its conservative valuation is evidence. Though it's tough to put a finger on the exact cause for the skepticism about Apple, it is probably fair to say the overall market still isn't sure if Apple can continue to innovate over the long haul without Steve Jobs. And 2013's fairly predictable year probably didn't help.
In 2013, Apple didn't have many surprises for the Street. Not only did Apple not enter any new product categories, but the form factor on most of Apple's products remained mostly unchanged, with two exceptions:
- A thinner and lighter iPad Air
- A radically redesigned Mac Pro.
But Apple is going to need to accomplish more than this to earn a price-to-earnings multiple that is more closely aligned with the S&P 500's hefty multiple of 19.
Here are three bold predictions for Cook & Co. that could improve the sentiment toward Apple stock in 2014.
1. Apple will enter a new product category.
In Apple's fourth-quarter earnings call, Apple CEO Tim Cook told investors that Apple plans on introducing new product categories in 2014.
2. Apple will launch a larger iPad.
Though it may not have made sense for Apple to introduce a larger iPad several years ago, the growing number of annual tablet sales suggests more consumers are opting to buy tablets as a substitute for laptops. Though a larger tablet may not be for everyone, the market for an "iPad Pro" is likely larger than it used to be -- maybe large enough for Apple to finally consider it seriously. And Apple's rapid move to 64-bit architecture in its A7 processor could have been its first step toward launching the device.
3. Apple's EPS will grow by double digits, thanks to China Mobile.
Though Apple's earnings per share in fiscal 2013 actually declined by 10% from 2012, this trend doesn't look like it will continue. Not only does Apple's gross profit margin story appear to be finally looking up, but Apple's deal with China Mobile alone should add substantial incremental value to Apple's 2014 earnings.
Next stop, $700?
Though a successful launch of an iWatch or a larger iPad may help validate Apple's innovative capability in the post-Steve Jobs era, the China Mobile deal likely has the most potential to really improve Apple's EPS in the short term. Together, however, three outcomes have the potential to get the Street a bit more excited about Apple again. Is a $700 stock price a possibility again?
Of course, none of these bets are certain -- they're just bets. On that note, I'd love to hear your thoughts: What do you think about these predictions? What are your predictions for Apple in 2014?
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