Apple launch: Investors should approach with caution
The tech giant's shares have climbed ahead of the company's iPhone 5S launch, but analysts warn about getting too carried away.
JMP Securities analyst Alex Gauna acknowledged a "narrow set of expectations" in a note released on Monday and "more muted speculative fervor" heading into the event. Like many observers, the analyst expects Apple to announce an iPhone 5S with upgraded processor and connectivity hardware, as well as a new champagne color model and dual flash. He also anticipates a cheaper iPhone 5C with broader color options and lower hardware specs, such as 3G connectivity for emerging markets where LTE is not available.
Gauna, however, warned investors to take a pragmatic approach to Apple's big day, pointing to the company's traditional share performance around its events.
"Given the run up, and given the historic tendency for muted AAPL performance after a new iPhone reveal, we continue to be fundamentally neutral on the story," he said. Instead, Gauna recommends that investors "play the excitement" around the new hardware features via Apple component suppliers such as Qualcomm (QCOM), Skyworks (SWKS) and PSMI (PSMI). JMP Securities rated Apple "market perform."
Apple shares have gained more than 11% over the last month. The company's shares climbed almost 8% over a similar timeframe prior to Apple's iPhone 5 launch last September but then fell 4.67% in the month following the announcement.
"As do any new products from Apple, there is significant investor interest ahead of the event and shares have rallied going in [to the launch]," added Glen Yeung, an analyst at Citi Research, in a note released on Monday. "We are skeptical about the success of the new iPhones on several fronts and are therefore concerned that the recent rally in the shares may be temporary."
Yeung highlighted the potential for an iPhone 5C to cannibalize the iPhone 5S, as well as significant pricing challenges. "While the price of the 5C is uncertain, we continue to model under the assumption of a $450 ASP [Average Selling Price]," he wrote. "However, in order for iPhone 5C to reach the $100 subsidized price, operators would need to subsidize $350/phone, a substantial amount that may prove a hindrance for operators in light of the falling ASP curve for smartphones. Meanwhile, if instead, Apple sells the iPhone 5C for $299, by our analysis the GM [Gross Margin] falls to 20%, meaningfully upsetting Apple's GM model."
Not all analysts, however, are as bearish on Apple. Last week, for example, Evercore Partners raised its Apple price target to $600 from $550, citing pent-up demand for the latest iPhone. "Why Apple looks to again cram the refresh of 70% of its revenue engines into a 2-month window we can't imagine, but given it's been a long 11 months since the last big product intro (iPad mini Oct-12), we see a good setup into next Tues' launch event headlined by the new iPhone 5S and low-cost 5C," wrote Evercore analyst Rob Cihra. "China Mobile also finally now looks to come on before the end of CY13, and we see it carrying both a TDD-LTE based iPhone 5S and 5C."
This is a busy week for Apple. In addition to Tuesday's launch at the company's headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., the tech giant will also be hosting an event at Beijing's World Trade Center on Wednesday, which could herald the eagerly anticipated deal with China Mobile (CHL).
Apple shares were down 0.77% in midday trading to $502.25. The company's stock closed up 1.6% at $506.17 on Monday.
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