The market has witnessed significant sell-offs in many growth stocks over the last several weeks. These sell-offs were driven by many different factors including slowing growth in stay-at-home stocks, lingering fears of inflation, and tax harvesting. As a result, valuation multiples have compressed, making it challenging for investors to navigate which stocks may be worth exploring for 2022. Apple (AAPL 0.70%) stock is up nearly 40% year to date, handily topping the S&P 500's return of 28%. But as demand for the iPhone 13 wanes and the company's market capitalization climbs higher, whether to hold onto Apple stock or sell in the new year is a tough decision for investors.
Can Apple's market cap go any higher?
As of the time of this article, Apple is the largest company in the world by market capitalization, closing in on a valuation of $3 trillion. For the fiscal quarter ended Sept. 25, Apple reported 29% revenue growth year over year. The company generated 33% growth on the product side of the business driven by strong iPhone sales, and also reported 26% growth in services while wearables grew 13% year over year. What may be even more impressive than its revenue growth is the amount of cash that Apple generates; the company's trailing-12-month free cash flow is $93 billion.
Apple is commanding strong growth across its entire suite of revenue streams from services, wearables, and other hardware products. Although the long-term prospects for Apple appear strong, investors recently learned that the Federal Reserve will begin to taper asset purchases in an effort to combat inflation, and it is likely that 2022 will come with multiple rate hikes.
This dynamic presents a conundrum for investors because Apple is generating healthy growth on both the products and services sides of its business. However, given the stock's year-to-date performance coupled with lingering concerns around inflation, it tempting for investors to trim their existing positions and lock in some gains. Considering the company revised its forecast for iPhone 13 downwards and the supply chain disruptions it is facing, it's hard to assess whether Apple has any upward momentum that could push the stock higher.
Weak iPhone demand and supply chain challenges
Apple originally forecasted to produce 90 million iPhone 13 models during the final three months of the year, just in time for the holiday shopping season. Due to COVID-fueled supply chain disruptions, key manufacturing partners such as Broadcom and Texas Instruments have struggled to deliver enough components. These supply constraints caused Apple, one of the largest chip buyers in the world, to slash its forecast for the new iPhone by 10 million units.
The supply side issues were in addition to another problem for Apple: consumer demand. A recent Bloomberg report indicated that Apple informed its component suppliers that demand for the iPhone 13 was weaker than initially anticipated due to long wait times. Product shortages and ongoing delivery delays for shoppers caused by supply chain issues have some consumers deciding to do without luxury purchases and upgrading to a new iPhone.
With this recipe of problems, it is easy for investors to lose sight of the bigger picture. It is important to keep in mind that the disorder caused by inflation and supply chain will not last forever. Rather, these are hiccups that investors must learn to navigate during times of economic uncertainty.
But Apple has major optionality on its side. Despite weaker than anticipated iPhone 13 demand, the company is not anchoring itself on one singular product release. Apple is investing in new product development and investors should expect to see these materialize in 2022. Namely, the company is set to launch its iPhone SE 3 during the first half of 2022. This could serve as a lucrative catalyst for Apple because this device is more budget friendly compared to higher-end hardware. Additionally, a number of new patents filed by Apple have some analysts speculating that the company's next blockbuster hit is less than a year away.
Is Apple entering the metaverse?
In late November, Morgan Stanley issued a note to investors highlighting that Apple is planning to launch a new hardware product, in particular an augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR) headset. Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo is estimating that the headset could launch during the fourth quarter of 2022. Apple's entrance to the metaverse looks even more likely as a new Bloomberg report suggests that the company hired Meta Platforms' (META 2.24%) augmented reality communications lead.
According to data from IDC, Meta holds the top spot for global shipments of VR headsets, controlling 75% of the market. However, Apple's entrance into the metaverse could open up another multi-billion dollar opportunity for the company as it looks to steal market share away from Meta and other incumbents. Per IDC's forecast, the market for AR/VR headsets will increase from 9 million units in 2021 to 50 million by 2025.
On the surface, trimming an existing position and taking some gains off the table may seem like a prudent option, if not a tempting one. Although the Federal Reserve provided some clarity on how it plans to combat inflation, concrete timeframes around tapering and rate hikes are still variable. For this reason, investors cannot know for certain when supply chain challenges will subside, allowing Apple and its suppliers the ability to operate under more normal circumstances.
Despite these uncertainties, Apple has several catalysts in its pipeline which should provide investors some confidence. New iPhones and the launch of an AR/VR headset, the latter of which will allow Apple to enter a new addressable market served by both its product and services businesses, make it hard to contest that growth isn't on the horizon. The biggest questions revolve around when this growth could occur and to what magnitude. Although investors cannot go wrong taking a profit, Apple's strong balance sheet and product expertise make it a compelling must-buy (and hold) stock for 2022.