Life is good for Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) investors these days: The consumer tech giant has once again inched past Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) for the market cap crown. But some investors feel that Apple has gone too high, too soon.
With iPhone, Mac, and iPad sales all going the wrong way, is this really a stock worth buying right now? It's easy to argue that it's time to move on from Apple, especially with its lofty $1.46 trillion market cap. Apple seems to always be cool, and is a growth portfolio staple, but with even Microsoft growing considerably faster and so many tech stocks killing it earlier in their growth trajectories is your Apple money better suited somewhere else?
Thankfully for the bulls, history tells us that you don't win by betting against the class act of Cupertino.
An Apple a day
Apple's not the speedster that it used to be. Its three-year annual revenue growth rate of 6.7% doesn't seem very exciting in what was an expanding global economy. Net income grew at an annualized clip of 7.8% in those three years -- not exactly a ringing endorsement. Revenue even declined in fiscal 2019.
However, lost in the slide is that we've seen positive top-line growth for four consecutive quarters. It's not much, but seeing positive steps -- particularly in its most recent quarter with the world coming to a screeching halt -- is an encouraging sign.
Has the stock outpaced Apple's recent business growth? Absolutely. The stock has more than doubled since the start of last year, even with last fiscal year's lackluster performance.
Are the bulls right? Absolutely. Apple has never been more relevant. Naysayers may argue that Apple growth is slowing, that operating systems don't matter in this platform-agnostic world, and that innovation died with Steve Jobs, but the juicy bullish nugget is that Apple is going through a major transformation.
We've seen this before. Microsoft was a sleepy Windows watcher, but now operating systems are its third largest business. It's all about the cloud for Mr. Softee, and right now for Apple it's all about services.
Services, services, services, services
Apple hardware is cool, and folks continue to pay a premium to own an iPhone over an Android, a Mac over a Chromebook, or an iPad over whoever is still cranking out tablets these days. I mean, can you even name an Apple Watch rival?
However, these cool gadgets are now just a means to a greater end -- and that end is services. From iCloud storage to the App Store money tree, Apple has a funny way of staying in the pockets of its biggest fans. The money that it's making from digital video, music, and books through Apple+, iTunes, and Apple Music is substantial. Say hello to Apple, the new high-growth services company.
Apple miraculously grew revenue during a March quarter that wiped out other tech darlings, but it wasn't a fluke. It was a nearly 17% increase in services revenue lifting the product sales decline into positive territory on the top line.
Services revenue is predictably steady and typically packs better margins than hardware. It was 23% of the top-line mix in Apple's most recent quarter, but accounted for 39% of the gross profit.
Apple knows what it's doing, and if it ever thought it didn't, it has $94 billion in cash and short-term investments to acquire the missing pieces of its services-driven future. I get why it's scary to see that iPhones, iPads, and Macs are posting slight declines in revenue in the latest quarter, but you're missing the point. The user bases are still growing, and if you've ever wondered why Apple gadgets have always cost more than comparable products, you're going to love what that means for services: Apple products are in the hands and pockets of people that have the discretionary income to throw at premium services in an otherwise freeloading world.
Product growth will get it right sooner rather than later. If Apple's historical knack for innovation doesn't save the day, you have 5G as a safety net. Bears will argue that Apple stock has outpaced its fundamentals. I argue that bears are looking at the wrong race.