Apple Leads Market Drop as Sales Warning Sparks Fears Hyper-Growth is Over

Photo Credit: Isopix/Shutterstock
January 3, 2019
4mo ago

By Carlo Versano and Chloe Aiello

Major indices followed Apple lower after the iPhone maker's unexpected announcement it would cut revenue guidance sparked fears that the days of Apple's hyper growth are over.

The Dow closed down 2.8 percent or 660 points on Thursday, while the S&P finished trading down about 2.5 percent and the Nasdaq closed lower by more than 3 percent.

The tech-heavy Cheddar 50 Index, which measures the performance of Cheddar's 50 top companies ー from Apple ($AAPL) to GM ($GM) ー closed down about 2.5 percent. Apart from Apple, the index was dragged by Intel ($INTC), Nvidia ($NVDA), Roku ($ROKU) and Square ($SQ).

Apple shares closed the day down about 10 percent, the biggest single-day drop for that company in six years. Apple has lost a staggering $430 billion in market capitalization since its all-time high ー that's more than Facebook's ($FB) market cap.

Apple's losses followed a letter Tim Cook wrote to investors on Wednesday, adjusting Apple's first-quarter revenue guidance down significantly to $84 billion from a previous estimate of $89 billion to $93 billion. The new outlook is about 5 percent less than the $88.3 billion in revenue the company reported this time last year.

In the letter, Cook mostly attributed the revision to "the magnitude of the economic deceleration" in emerging markets, especially China.

Wall Street analysts piled on Thursday, with banks from Macquarie to Bernstein to Goldman Sachs cutting price targets and issuing downgrades on the company that was the most valuable in the world just weeks earlier.

Among the most cautionary downgrades came from Jefferies, which called Apple's guidance its "biggest miss in years" and said the "extent of this miss suggests it is navigating uncharted waters."

Wedbush maintained an "outperform" rating on the stock, but reduced its price target from $275 to $200. Equities analyst Dan Ives said Apple's recovery will depend on how the company handles the decline ー whether by choosing to introduce a new product, cutting back prices, or doing something else entirely.

He added that Apple was ultimately at fault for declining sales and iPhone upgrades in China.

"The degree that China fell off in the quarter, that's what took investors by surprise in terms of how soft it was in terms of iPhone upgrades," Ives told Cheddar on Thursday. "I think a lot of that was pricing and ultimately a miscalculation of the market ー in our opinion probably the biggest strategic miscalculation that Cook's had so far as CEO."

Ives said the days of Apple being a hyper-growth story are over, but the iPhone doesn't have to go the way of the Blackberry if it can continue to grow its install-base. Services revenue, what Ives called a "silver lining" of Cook's Wednesday night note, represents another potential area of growth for the company.

Michael Robinson, technology analyst and Money Map Press publisher, agreed that Apple has been too dependent on iPhone sales, but he said the problem also might have quite a bit to do with China, specifically Chinese pride heightened by events like the Made in China 2025 program and the historic lunar landing.

"There's a lot of Chinese pride in that market right now and Apple is losing as a result of it," Robinson said.

"It has become much more of a status symbol to buy a domestically made smartphone than to buy Apple," he added.

Robinson, an Apple bull, said he fears the company will perform poorly in the next couple of quarters, but he is more optimistic long-term. He said Cook was prescient several years ago in attempting to move the company toward services and away from iPhone and hardware dependence, but as of now "they're not there yet."

If Apple "executes against the plan" Cook laid out, taking advantage of the unified system to accelerate services growth, the company will be in a strong position long-term, Robinson said.

For full interview click here.