With Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) share price once again marching toward all-time highs, some investors are beginning to question whether the tech giant's stock price has come too far, too fast. Apple's stock price is up more than 20% so far this year, and the bears are perpetually clamoring about competition clawing at Apple's margins. And considering the difficulty in delivering strong earnings growth off of Apple's already massive earnings base, as well as the need for continued successful innovation, I can understand why Apple skeptics are beginning to grow in number.
However, I'm not among them. That's because I see an elite business with a slew of exciting opportunities in emerging growth markets such as wearables and digital payments. I'm also intrigued by Apple's opportunity in the enterprise market, as well as future innovations that still lie ahead. But before we talk about what's to come, let's take a look at some recent events.
What's happened so far in 2014?
Strong iPhone and Mac sales helped drive revenue up 6% in Apple's June quarter. Earnings per share, boosted by Apple's massive share buyback program, surged an even more impressive 20%. This was Apple's highest EPS growth rate in seven quarters -- evidence that the bears are once again underestimating this perpetual winner.
Gross margins, which many Apple bears highlighted as an area at risk from increased competition from Android-powered devices, actually came in higher than Wall Street's expectations, at 39.4%, much to the bears' dismay.
To be fair, iPad unit sales did come in below Wall Street's expectations, at 13.3 million, down 9% year over year versus analyst estimates of 14 million-15 million. iPad sales were negatively affected by a reduction in channel inventory and by lower demand for tablets during the quarter in areas such as the U.S. and Western Europe. However, looking ahead, new models, as well as Apple's recent deal with IBM (NYSE:IBM) (which I'll discuss later in this article), will likely provide a catalyst for a rebound in iPad sales in the quarters ahead.
Apple's tremendous cash flow continues to gush, with the tech titan generating more than $10 billion in cash flow from operations in the June quarter alone. That has kept Apple's fortress-like balance sheet well stocked with cash and investments -- more than $164 billion at the end of the June quarter -- even as Apple returned more than $8 billion in cash to shareholders through dividends and share repurchases during the quarter, and more than $74 billion since the start of its massive $130 billion capital return program began in March 2012.
More recently, Apple unveiled two new iPhone form factors with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, helping Apple better compete for demand for phones with larger screens. The 6 Plus, in particular, enters Apple into the "phablet" arena. With introduction weekend sales topping 10 million, Apple once again appears to have an iPhone success on its hands.
Apple also unveiled Apple Watch and Apple Pay. These new innovations give the Mac maker a beachhead into both the wearables market and the digital payments field. What's more, the Apple Watch, combined with HealthKit -- a new tool for developers, which lets health and fitness apps work together and allows customers to choose what health data they share – gives Apple an entry into the health information technology market. This is an area that's likely to become increasingly important in the years ahead as governments, corporations, and individuals all seek to use technology to monitor health issues and lower healthcare costs.
With Apple Pay, Apple brings its more than 800 million iTunes accounts with credit card information, instantly making Apple a competitor not to be taken lightly in the massive payments industry. Even if the revenue Apple earns from Apple Pay fails to move the needle for this $170 billion enterprise, the piece of mind that comes from Apple's best-in-class fingerprint security technology, as well as the potentially habit-forming nature of consumers paying with their iPhones, stands to further strengthen Apple's already powerful ecosystem.
Another exciting growth catalyst for Apple is the enterprise, or corporate, market segment. Apple's recently forged alliance with IBM should advance the market share gains Apple has earned, thanks to the popularity of the iPhone and iPad. IBM will help sell iPhones and iPads to its corporate clients, and develop apps that will enable large corporations to access IBM's analytics from Apple devices. The deal brings two one-time rivals together in a strategic partnership, and further strengthens Apple's suite of offerings to enterprise customers.
Is Apple still a buy?
Looking even further ahead, the Apple innovation engine is likely to deliver even more game-changing new products and services. Could the long-rumored Apple TV be in store for 2015? It's certainly possible. Are there other products in the works that have escaped detection by the non-stop Apple rumor mill? It would appear so, with Tim Cook recently stating that was indeed the case.
Make no mistake; an investment in Apple is an investment in innovation. That's a bet I'm willing to make. Are you?
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