Every day, Wall Street analysts upgrade some stocks, downgrade others, and "initiate coverage" on a few more. But do these analysts even know what they're talking about? Today, we're taking one high-profile Wall Street pick and putting it under the microscope...
This morning, analysts at Raymond James upgraded Apple from market perform to outperform with a $250 price target, reports StreetInsider.com. The analyst makes a curious case for the tech star, however, arguing on the one hand that sales of the newest iPhone could disappoint -- but on the other, if you look just a little farther out, you'll see good news for the tech titan.
Let's dive in.
Good news first
In today's report, Raymond James argues that Apple is accelerating its big bet on 5G internet. Previously, 2020 flagship iPhones were expected to offer 5G connectivity, with 5G spreading across the entire lineup of new iPhones by 2021. As the analyst explains, however, this plan seems to have changed after the company's landmark legal settlement with Qualcomm, which will facilitate Apple using more advanced Qualcomm chips in its phones, rather than the Intel chips it was planning to use before the settlement.
The new plan, says Raymond James, will be to offer 5G across all tiers of iPhones sold in 2020. And assuming this is the case, the analyst believes that offering "a reasonably priced 5G phone will be a very compelling" marketing tool in convincing customers to upgrade, spurring additional iPhone sales next year.
Bad news next
Of course, there's a flip side to this scenario, and that flip side is that this year, says Raymond James, iPhone sales could disappoint mightily.
Knowing that 2020 will be the first year of 5G, customers who plunked down $1,000 for a new iPhone a few months ago may decide to hang on to their devices for another 14 months or so. When September 2019 rolls around, they may simply skip the unveiling of whatever new iPhones come out, and instead wait to buy a 5G device in 2020 instead.
In such a scenario, Raymond James warns: "[W]e expect this year's iPhone cycle to be the weakest in years."
How should investors play the cycle?
And this poses a dilemma for investors. In Raymond James' view, it's a good idea to buy Apple stock ahead of the anticipated groundswell of buying that will happen next year. At the same time, though, it may be risky to buy Apple right before it reports a series of quarters of weak sales of the 2019 model iPhones. In that case, muses the analyst, "[T]oday may not be the right time to buy ahead of that weakness."
Of course, good news is still out there, lurking just around the corner in late 2020 -- but investors may need to exercise patience and wait for it, suffering through some turbulence from weak sales in the interim.
The upshot for investors
So when will be the right moment to buy? Raymond James elects to punt on that question: "[W]e've decided to upgrade now and let our clients decide the best time to execute on our idea."
To which I'd only add -- "or not." I mean, say Raymond James is right. Say iPhone sales will slump this later year, and that they'll surge back in 2020. One way of looking at this forecast is to view Apple as a cyclical stock, dropping one day and rising the next, and trying to time your entry into that cycle so as to maximize your profit. I think the simpler way to look at Apple, though, is to compare where it is today to how it's expected to grow over the next several years, and decide if the price looks attractive.
If yes, then yes -- go ahead and "execute" on Raymond James' "idea." But if not, don't.
And in that regard, when I look at Apple today, selling for 16.4 times trailing earnings but pegged for only 12.5% earnings growth over the next five years, I have to say that...right now, Apple shares just don't look that attractive to me. Maybe if Raymond James is right and weak sales over the next few months will lower Apple's price to the point that a 12.5% growth rate will justify the price tag.
But if it doesn't, I'm just as happy to go look elsewhere and find a better bargain to buy.