Could The iPhone 5 Boost GDP?

By James Kerin | November 01, 2012 AAA

By market capitalization, brand image and revenue stream, Apple (Nasdaq:APPL) is considered by many to be the world's most successful consumer electronics company. In Q3, Apple generated a whopping $35 billion in revenue, 46% of which was derived from sales of the iPhone. Its recent Q4 earnings call revealed that, despite missing analyst expectations, Apple also brought in an additional $35.96 billion, bringing the overall fiscal revenue up to $156.5 billion.

Feasibility
Can one product alone have a significant effect on the United States economy? History would indicate that it is possible. Certain revolutionary products have the ability to influence the aggregate demand of a nation and singlehandedly drive GDP. For example, Ford (NYSE:F) sold 15 million Model T automobiles from 1909 to 1927, totaling a 60% market share at its most successful point. Given that there was no automobile market up to that point, it can readily be assumed that the Ford Motor Company had a tangible impact on the U.S. GDP over that time frame.

GDP Boasts
Before its release, every investment bank held the iPhone 5 in high regard, with many differing in their opinion on the extent of the phone's impact. For example, Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) revised its price estimates on Apple in response to the projected demand for iPhone 5. Deutsche Bank (NYSE:DB) coolly boosted its price target from $775 to $850 as well. Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS), on the other hand, stated that it was prepared to re-evaluate its price target if the phone's success carried into 2013.

However, JPMorgan & Chase was willing to go a step farther. Michael Feroli, the chief economist at JPMorgan, has published that "iPhone 5 could potentially add between a quarter to half of a percentage point to fourth quarter annualized GDP growth. In other words, sales of the iPhone 5 alone could contribute up to $3.2 billion to America's GDP in the fourth quarter. While certainly ambitious, JPMorgan considers the estimate consistent with past performance of the iPhone product line.

Results
While Apple did sell 5 million units in the first few days of its release, it missed analyst expectations and since then (and after its recent Q4 earnings release) has dropped to a share price of $605. However, despite falling short of analyst expectations, can the argument be made that the iPhone 5 boosted the U.S. economy? It depends on whether or not you subscribe to the Broken Window Fallacy, as posited by Paul Krugman. Each person purchasing an iPhone 5 is likely disposing of their old iPhone 4 or 4S. Therefore, to say that the sales of the iPhone 5 will bring money into the economy is like saying that breaking your own window and replacing it with a new one will benefit the economy, on the basis that you're giving the glass repairman work.

The Bottom Line
Despite how you feel about its potential to boost the economy, Apple is producing electronics that consumers want. Even though the iPhone 5 failed to meet analysts' sales expectations, it will likely have a positive influence on the U.S. GDP. However, the breadth of its significance remains to be see.

At the time of writing, James Kerin did not own any shares in any company mentioned in this article.

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