Apple Inc. (AAPL) will likely see its stock suffer early next month as its most recent iPhone sales numbers fail to meet the Street's already low estimates, according to one team of analysts on the Street who remain bullish overall on the tech giant.
In a note to clients Friday, Morgan Stanley's Katy Huberty reduced her 12-month price target on AAPL shares to $200 from $203, citing weak demand in the vital Chinese market as a negative for June-quarter sales.
China Weakness and Lower iPhones
"We believe the June quarter consensus iPhone shipment estimate of 42.9M could be revised meaningfully lower to account for weak supply chain data points and continued weakness in China data," wrote Huberty. "Additionally, China smartphone activation data points to a reversal in Apple share trajectory with losses through March that presents a meaningful headwind in the largest smartphone market." As a result, the analyst reduced her estimates for iPhone sales by 1 million in the quarter ended March and by 6 million for the June quarter.
Morgan Stanley's bearishness regarding Apple's China segment echos a handful of analysts on the Street pointing to softness in demand in the Asian market. UBS' Steven Milunovich issued a note last week indicating that Apple's second-biggest market after North America is "no longer" a "driver of significant iPhone growth. KGI's Ming-Chi Kuo was also out with a warning in which he highlighted Chinese smartphone makers' success in rivaling Apple's augmented-reality technology.
$52 Billion in Dividends
Issues in China aside, Morgan Stanley highlights various reasons to own Apple stock for the long-term.
“We would be buyers on any weakness following the print given 1) the Services story remains intact, (leading to a stronger and more consistent source of EPS growth and margin expansion), 2) estimate revisions are approaching trough (we already assume no device revenue growth next three years), and 3) buybacks remain a source of downside protection,” wrote Huberty.
Apple has been singled out as one of the major beneficiaries of the GOP tax overhaul as it brings home billions in cash stored overseas. The company is likely to announce a massive capital return program when it reports earnings on May 1. Huberty expects Apple to increase its share repurchase plan by $150 billion, writing that the company could also raise its quarterly dividend by 50% in 2018 to $0.95 per share. (See also: Next Apple iPhone Could Be Surprisingly Cheap: KGI.)