Apple's Biggest Challenge, Slowed Growth: Analyst

The FAANG stocks have been taking a beating ever since Facebook Inc. (FB) and Netflix Inc. (NFLX) reported second-quarter results that were below expectations and warned of slower growth to come. After the close of trading Tuesday, it's Apple Inc.’s (AAPL) turn to weigh in. And just like its peers, a lack of growth in the smartphone market could hurt results and thus the stock.

“The iPhone hasn’t grown in the last three years,” said Robert Cihra, an analyst at Guggenheim in an interview with CNBC. “The smartphone market itself has stopped growing.”

Growth Is Apple’s Problem

According to Cihra, the problem is mobile phone market saturation and a replacement cycle that has been extended. In the past, consumers would replace their smartphone every two years, but that is getting pushed out to an average of three years. At the same time, most consumers already own a smartphone, making it hard to grow its install base of new users.

“The biggest problem Apple faces is that the market has stopped growing,” said Cihra, noting that the only saving grace for the iPhone maker is the increased price point for the iPhone X, which starts at $999. While lots of consumers have balked at spending $1,000 for a mobile phone, those that are buying it are pushing Apple’s margins higher. “iPhone total revenue is going to be up, driven by price points not by higher units,” he said. (See also: Qualcomm Says Apple Dropping Its iPhone Modems.)

Investors May Need to Look Toward the iPhone Refresh

When Apple reports after the closing bell, investors will be paying close attention to what it has to say about future growth. Investors have reacted negatively to the cautious commentary out of Facebook and Netflix, punishing everything technology related. And while Apple investors have the fall to look to when Apple is expected to refresh its line of iPhones, some suppliers have been warning about slowing demand during the second quarter.

Cihra pointed to Taiwan Semiconductor (TSM), which is a chip supplier to Apple. In reporting second-quarter results earlier in July, it said revenue growth would be in the high-single-digit percentage range, which is lower than its reduced target for revenue growth of 10%. For its fiscal third quarter, Wall Street expects Apple to weigh in with EPS of $2.18 and revenue of $52.34 billion. Analysts expect it to have iPhone unit sales of 41.79 million, according to CNBC.

As for how Apple’s shares will fair in the wake of the technology bloodletting in recent days, Cihra said he still likes the stock once we get past the June quarter results pointing to the iPhone refresh that should bring new LCD and OLED models. The June quarter is typically weak for Apple, then we can “start looking forward to the next iPhone cycle,” he said. (See also: Apple Reports Earnings With an Overbought Chart.)

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