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My investing philosophy mostly centers around the Value discipline and GARP- Growth at a Reasonable Price. This blog includes commentary on market conditions as well as fundamental analysis of specific companies. Graduated from Rhodes College with a degree in Business with concentration in Finance & Marketing. Currently working on obtaining the CFA designation. Previously worked in Mortgage Trading for a major bank. Use MS Excel extensively for developing investment models, notably valuation models based on DCF methods.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What Can Push Apple's Shares Higher?

Apple Inc (nasd:AAPL)- Apple has surged to $180 from $120 where it was trading back in February. Of course, Apple was trading near $200 at the end of December 2007, but sentiment turned and Apple’s shares plummeted January through March before reversing, and staging a rally in April. Shares have been stuck in the $180’s since May. The pivotal question becomes: “what can/will push shares higher?”

Apple’s stock may have gotten ahead of itself at the end of last year (2007), when it hit $200. Analysts were bullish and nearly all had a price target above $200. Then January arrived, Apple provided weak guidance and the Street flipped out. Sentiment quickly turned negative, and heavy selling drove Apple lower. A couple analyst downgraded the stock, and most revised their price targets lower to the $150-175 range. As industry data reports showing potential robust Mac sales became available in March, Apple shares began to recover. Apple announced earnings in April that showed strong Mac sales. This further quelled apprehension and eliminated the overly pessimistic attitude on Wall Street. As the chart illustrates, price targets were revised upward. In short, I believe Apple shares collapsed due to worries that they were overvalued, then information subsequently supported those high share prices, thus Apple’s stock returned to that level.

Apple has been stuck in the $180s since the beginning of May. Nothing has been able to power shares beyond the current range. There have been several analysts raising price targets. However, the effect on Apple’s share price has been insignificant. Apple announced the July arrival of its new 3G iPhone, yet Apple shares were still unsuccessful in breaking out into the $190s.

Apple has announced the expansion of iPhone countries from 5 to 70, as well as a much lower price point of $199. However, EPS estimates for FY09 have only slightly budged.

According to the EPS revisions table, most recent changes to the consensus estimates have been downward.

In my opinion, I think the catalyst for a move higher will be upward revisions to EPS estimates. I don’t think they currently account for the immense sales potential of the new iPhone, as well as the momentum in the demand for Macs. Albeit, Apple is giving up the monthly subscription revenue payments from AT&T, thus the increase in volume will becoming at a lower margin. This might possibly be why Apple’s shares have failed to respond more positively. There are a couple things to consider. First, there have been estimates that the new phone’s manufacturing cost is half of the current iPhone. Second, the MobileMe service at $100 per year adds revenue potential associated with the new iPhone. Sales of iPhone applications from Apple’s App store is another avenue to boost revenue. Most importantly, iPhone sales will expose the Apple brand to many who lack experience, and ultimately boost Mac sales.

I think we will gain more clarity in July, when the new iPhone hits stores and Apple releases Q3 results. It’s likely, until then, there won’t be many developments capable of really moving the stock, other than possible EPS estimate revisions.

Apple isn’t cheap trading at 35x FY08 consensus EPS estimates and 28x FY09. Apple may actually be cheaper if you believe those estimates are too low. I think the estimates are likely too low, thus Apple would be trading at slightly lower multiples. I think Apple could be bought on any weakness or pullbacks, since Apple’s share price reflects the fundamentals as opposed to pure sentiment, as it did last fall and this winter.

Disclosure: none


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