So far, Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) big year in 2016 has yet to materialize.
Worse yet, increasingly widespread rumors suggest it might not come at all. Though still not a given, it seems more and more likely that the upcoming iPhone 7 will prove only an incremental improvement over the iPhone 6s, breaking Apple's long-standing tradition of even-year form factor overhauls.
This is likely a negative in the near-term for Apple stock, as it removes the key catalyst so many, myself included, had baked into their 2016 Apple investing thesis. However, as one analyst notes, this near-term negative comes with a long-term positive.
The next, next iPhone
In a recent note to clients, Credit Suisse analyst Kulbinder Garcha made the case that 2017 will in fact be the year Apple returns to meaningful growth. In his analysis, Garcha sees a tepid consumer response for the iPhone 7 on the assumption that its form factor will remain largely in line with the current iPhone 6s and 6s Plus.
Instead, Garcha argues that Apple will use 2017, the 10-year anniversary of the original iPhone, to launch a dramatically revamped handset. According to his analysis, the fall 2017 iPhone will feature, among other things, an all-glass casing that could possibly be curved. The iPhone 2017 iPhone may also include "features and upgrades, including an OLED [organic light-emitting diode] screen, full glass display, no home button, enhanced Taptic Engine, improved camera, and wireless charging." Garcha also sees Apple calling the device the iPhone 8, rather than the 7s.
With the iPhone responsible for the majority of Apple sales, this dramatically increases the odds that Apple stock will remain relatively range bound for the rest of the year. No new products of note likely mean a less-than-memorable year for the Mac maker. However, this also likely sets the stage for 2017 to be a blockbuster one for patient Apple investors.
The ultimate iPhone "super cycle"
If this turns out to be the case, it means next year will likely see appreciable gains to Apple stock. This makes sense at both strategic and financial levels.
I'm not the only one who's commented on how rival high-end smartphones, like Samsung's Galaxy S7, today trump Apple's current iPhones. However, given Apple's long-standing historic track record of user retention, the risk of mass customer defections remains relatively muted, even if the iPhone 7 disappoints.
In this scenario, Apple will be simply shifting the embedded demand for its iPhones from one year to the next. In fact, waiting one additional year to launch an impressive iPhone upgrade should actually add to the latent demand for the forthcoming device. Seen this way, Garcha's purported iPhone 8 would reach market to historically high levels of demand and all the financial rewards that would come with it. Especially when combined with Apple's ongoing international expansion efforts, next year's iPhone would then likely see a return to growth for Apple stock the likes of which we haven't seen since the launch of the iPhone 6.
Adding some specificity to this idea, Garcha's analysis calls for reduced Apple EPS in its fiscal 2016 and 2017; remember the iPhone typically debuts in September, toward the end of Apple's fiscal year. However, in 2018, Garcha sees Apple generating $12.32 per share in earnings, an increase of roughly 50% over this year's average analyst estimate.
Having to wait another year to see a major potential move in Apple stock is probably understandably frustrating for investors. However, if you believe this analysis, the risk-reward dynamic today remains tilted heavily in Apple's favor, especially when considering additional possible catalysts like increased capital return and possible new products. This might not be the year Apple investors have hoped for, but the upside potential in its shares remains as compelling as ever.