Apple (AAPL 4.01%) stock has taken it on the chin in the past several weeks. The stock is down around $110 from an intra-day high of $135 just a few months ago. Most of this decline is due to pervasive fear about declining economic growth in China, and concern over the huge stock market crash there. It seems that, all of a sudden, China has morphed from being one of the premier emerging markets to a huge headwind for global growth.
Now, attention is turning to the multinational companies that do a lot of business in China, such as Apple. But before investors panic, a dose of calm is appropriate. Here's why Apple remains one of the strongest businesses on the planet, and will continue to reap tremendous growth in China for many years.
Tim Cook to the rescue
CEO Tim Cook has taken the unusual step of contacting the media to address the issue. He emailed CNBC's Jim Cramer on Aug. 24 to discuss the state of Apple's business in China, and had this to say:
I get updates on our performance in China every day, including this morning, and I can tell you that we have continued to experience strong growth for our business in China through July and August. Growth in iPhone activations has actually accelerated over the past few weeks, and we have had the best performance of the year for the App Store in China during the last two weeks.
Although at times, we should take CEO-speak with a grain of salt, these are strong statements. It's unlikely Cook would do this if he were not confident in what he was saying. It's valuable for investors to have a boots-on-the-ground perspective from someone as close to the situation as Cook. And judging by Apple's recent performance in China, it's hard to envision the situation changing all that dramatically in a matter of a few weeks.
Growth In China remains compelling
The other reason I'm not worried about Apple in China is because I think there is still plenty of growth potential there, even if GDP comes in lower than previously expected. The emerging middle class in China is pushing millions of consumers upward, and Apple is a hugely successful, growing brand.
Apple's revenue in China more than doubled last quarter, year over year, thanks to the ongoing success of the iPhone 6. That made China Apple's fastest-growing geography by a wide margin. There's little reason to think consumers in China just stopped buying Apple products and services, especially now that we have information directly from management.
LTE penetration remains low in China, Apple continues to gain share there, and everything coming from the company itself is nothing but positive about China. Even as it pertains to Apple's other products, the results are very good. For example, Tim Cook stated on the last conference call with analysts that Apple claimed its highest ever PC share in China last quarter, thanks to 33% revenue growth of Macs. Revenue for the App Store also more than doubled in China last quarter.
Last but not least, retail remains a tremendous catalyst in Apple's favor. As Cook articulated on the most recent conference call, Apple opened its 22nd retail store in China last quarter. The company is aggressively expanding its retail operations, and is on track to have 40 stores open there by the middle of next year. That's yet another indicator of strong demand in China.
Don't sell on panic
Apple stock right now is a good bargain. At around $110, the stock trades for 13 times trailing earnings per share and 11 times forward EPS estimates. These valuation multiples represent meaningful discounts to the broader market. While there's no guarantee that Apple stock won't get even cheaper, it makes no sense to me to sell at these prices. That's particularly true because I believe the China fears are way overblown.
Apple enjoys the luxury of commanding premium prices for its products. Nothing about that has changed in the past few weeks, despite the panic selling. If anything, Apple is a buy here, not a sell, and the market may be in for a big surprise when Apple next reports earnings.