I think Apple Pay has been unfortunately a disaster. There's
very slow growth. ... It's helped to tank the stock, frankly.
-- Patriarch Equity CEO Eric Schiffer
Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) CEO Tim Cook has a pretty thankless job. After taking the reins from larger-than-life predecessor Steve Jobs, Cook continued to grow the company's market cap from $350 billion in mid-2011 to nearly $550 billion today. All the while, Cook continued to face the scrutiny of whether Jobs would have approved of his direction and leadership.
Now the company is firmly in correction territory. Analysts have increasingly turned critical on the company, with a few even turning to ad hominem attacks to express frustration. As such, it's important for long-term investors to put bearish commentary in context.
On the heels of Apple Pay's movement into the important Chinese market, is Schiffer (as quoted at the top of this article from a Feb. 17 CNBC interview) correct that Apple Pay has had a hand in tanking the stock?
Apple Pay was never meant to be a significant profit driver on its own
With widely covered large-cap stocks like Apple, a stock drop typically occurs when the company underperforms versus analyst expectations. The issue I have with Schiffer's analysis is that no analyst looked toward Apple Pay as a significant growth driver on its own. eMarketer estimates that the mobile-payments market will boast $27 billion in transactions in 2016; at Apple's transaction rate ($0.15/$100), this would net the company $40.5 million in revenue if it captured every single transaction, which wouldn't be a whole lot for Apple, whose fiscal Q1 2016 reveneu came in at $75.9 billion.
Competitors Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF) Pay and Alphabet Pay don't even charge for their mobile payments systems, essentially viewing the service as a loss leader. In a bid to further differentiate from the others, Samsung Pay has even incorporated technology into the device that allows Samsung Pay-enabled phones to communicate with older-model pay terminals without near-field communication, or NFC, functionality.
Why would a company spend time and money on research and development on new technology when the results will not appear on the top line? It's all about the ecosystem.
Mobile payments are simply an ecosystem builder
For a company such as Apple, where the top line was $233.7 billion last fiscal year, $40.5 million would amount to less than two-tenths of one percent of revenue. As a favorable hypothetical, even if Apple booked this full amount as profit, the figure jumps to eight-tenths of one percent of net income. Tim Cook has started to emphasize the tremendous software and services opportunity having 1 billion active devices present, but it's unlikely Cook thinks Apple Pay will be a large revenue driver in the short term.
Instead, Apple Pay appears to be an ecosystem builder first, with a minor monetization component. The reason why Apple stock has underperformed has nothing to do with Apple Pay, but is due more to the fact that the company's signature product -- the iPhone -- is now slowing. Last quarter, the iPhone was responsible for 68.1% of Apple's total revenue haul, but only grew 0.9% on a year-on-year basis.
Schiffer may be correct in his assertion that transaction growth has slowed, but on both a revenue and ecosystem basis, the company is not depending on Apple Pay to perform the heavy lifting... or to even have an effect on the investment thesis. To pretend otherwise is either hyperbole, or a fundamental misunderstanding of Apple.