Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over market movements, we do like to keep an eye on big changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.
What: Shares of Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) were up 1% at 12:00 p.m. EDT on Monday, outperforming the broad market, as broker Cowen raised its price target to $135 from $115 in a report published this morning.
So what: Cowen raised its price target on the basis of a survey it commissioned with 3,000 adult respondents: 1,000 smartphone owners in both the U.S. and China and 500 in both the U.K. and Japan. In analyzing the results, Cowen came to three conclusions:
1. "Virgin" demand is an important driver of unit sales growth:
New consumer options continue to materially boost near-term demand and break down the traditional 2-year replacement cycles; this is likely to continue. Additionally, ~25% of all [iPhone] 6/6+ purchases have been "virgin" demand (primarily Android "switchers") meaning Galaxy S6 likely represents "do or die" for Samsung at the high-end. Taken together, the survey suggests units are still growing ~10% Y/Y even excluding these new users. Longer term, these share gains bode well for AAPL's ability to monetize its growing iOS user base.
2. Despite current limitations in the specs (limited battery life, principally), underlying demand for the Apple Watch is strong:
Impressively, >50% of ALL respondents (regardless of ecosystem or region) indicate strong Apple Watch purchase intentions (oddly even higher among Android users than iOS users) and ~25% indicated they would stop wearing a conventional watch altogether.
3. Finally, there appears to be genuine momentum behind Apple's venture into electronic payments, Apple Pay:
Survey supports three key developments: 1) Apple Pay being widely used (~35% of all US 6/6+ owners); 2) among 6/6+ owners using Pay, ~65% use at least several times per week. Regular users make up ~20% of overall iPhone 6/6+ owners – again, a surprisingly large portion; 3) among US smartphone users yet to buy 6/6+, ~65% rate Apple Pay as an important factor in any forthcoming 6/6+ purchase decision. To us, Apple Pay in the near/medium-term remains primarily a driver of future hardware sales and this survey supports that view.
Now what: I'm not going to provide the numerical rationale behind Cowen's higher price target upgrade, which looks a bit like reverse engineering a number in order to catch up with the current stock price (actually, I take offense to the whole notion of a "price target" for a stock, but that's another discussion.) However, I think the thrust of the survey results is that Apple appears likely to continue taking share from its nearest rival and is putting together an ecosystem that is increasingly "sticky." The latter is a very powerful trend because it lowers the obsolescence/ fashion risk that traditionally haunts technology and consumer electronics companies.
At 14.6 times estimated earnings-per-share for fiscal 2015, Apple's shares look well anchored within their fair value range, neither a screaming buy, nor a wildly overvalued, but, rather, poised to deliver acceptable returns over the next 3-5 years.