There's another Wall Street pro starting to wax pessimistic on the prospects for the next iPhone. Raymond James analyst Tavis McCourt is revising his top- and bottom-line forecasts for the new Apple (AAPL -0.66%) quarter to the downside. He sees revenue of $45.04 billion for what will be Apple's fiscal fourth quarter, below the market consensus of $46.14 billion. He also lowered his earnings projection from $1.56 a share to $1.41 a share.
This is a pretty big deal because Apple is widely expected to introduce its next smartphone before the quarter's end. McCourt's concerns make sense. The chatter in recent days has been about Apple doubling the storage capacity of its entry-level model. The shift from 16 gigs of internal storage to 32 gigabytes will be welcome for consumers, but it may not be so great for Apple if it talks bargain hunters off of the mid-priced model. It could also lead to more owners relying less on paying a premium for expanded iCloud capacity.
McCourt points out factors that will work in Apple's favor, including lower commodity costs and kinder foreign exchange conditions, but the rumored addition of a dual lens camera and the possibility of more effectively waterproofing the device by doing away with the headphone port could make the device more expensive to piece together.
More importantly, McCourt wonders why Wall Street's consensus forecasts suggest an improving gross margin when it has historically compressed during periods when a new iPhone hits the market. He is sticking with his neutral "market perform" rating on the stock. He's just another analyst taking a cautious tone heading into a period that would historically boost Apple's stock and stature.
Remember when Wall Street would be waving rally flags as we approached a new iPhone release? Now that Apple is posting year-over-year declines in iPhone sales -- and even the most bullish of analysts is expecting a decline from the $51.5 billion Apple rang up in revenue during last year's fiscal fourth quarter -- the market's taking a more cautious approach.
A common speculation is that the changes to the iPhone 7 in a few months won't be enough to force a rush to upgrade. This has resulted in analysts lowering their price targets on Apple in recent months. The next upgrade frenzy may have to wait until next year, and that isn't the end of the world if you happen to be long Apple.
There's always a silver lining
McCourt may be trimming his outlook for the final quarter of Apple's fiscal year ending in September, but he's feeling a bit better about the iPhone's chances come fiscal 2017. He's now bumping his estimate for iPhones sold from 216 million to 231 million.
A major catalyst for the upward revision is that next year's iPhone model could launch earlier. Apple has stuck to September for each of its past four generations, but if the iPhone 7 later this quarter proves to be a dud it could force Apple to push next year's model earlier into the summer. Next year's release could incorporate battery life-enhancing OLED screens and other bar-raising features. It also can't hurt that Apple Watch will have another year of seasoning under its belt.
McCourt is still concerned about how margins will play out in the new fiscal year that begins in less than three months, even with the heavier volume of smartphones hitting the market. However, the market will likely forgive a near-term setback in profitability if it means that iPhone unit volume is growing again.