COMMENT: Apple Has Nowhere To Go Other Than Down


Shares in Apple are starting to tumble with several brokers recommending that investors sell.

The big problem for Apple is that they are relying on old products, that are tarted up with new capabilities to drive sales.

Most of these products, which include the iPhone, iPad, Mac computers were delivered by Steve Jobs prior to his death and not the new management team now running Apple. 

Cook is a former Compaq logistics and operations guy who lacks the vision and drive that Steve Jobs delivered. 

Right now Apple sales are dependent on iPhone sales in China and those sales are starting to fall away as several Chinese brands as well as Samsung eat away at Apple market share. 

While Apple shares still look like a bargain and are trading at about 10 times the $9.50 in earnings per share, momentum is against them as sales slow for the first time in 13 years. 

Right now Apple needs to pull a big product out of the hat and because of the lack of a visionary like Steve Jobs at the head of the Company Apple is suffering to be competitive.

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For years Apple has bullied both distributors and retailers who stock their products. They have given little in margins while demanding prime positions and support from retailers.

In Australia Apple has not held a press conference for more than a decade for the simple reason that they do not want journalists asking tough questions. Instead Apple management who are known to be control freaks like to dictate what journalists should write or face the wrath of Apple management.

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When you add in Apple’s $216bn cash pile, a plan to repurchase a further $47bn in stock by March 2017 and an annual dividend that is set to rise by 10pc to $2.22 in the year ahead Apple stock look like a must have stock. But if you take a look at iPod sales the product that started the Apple success boom one has to seriously consider that their iPhone sales could be heading in the same direction.  

The biggest threat to Apple is the shortening of technology life cycles. Tomorrow’s best-selling product is yesterday’s paperweight in next to no time. 

The most worrying sign of things to come is the fate of the iPod. The portable music device was launched in 2001 and sales peaked at 54m eight years later before slumping 81pc to less than 10m in the next six years.

Apple, the world’s largest company, expects revenue for the three months to the end of March of between $50bn and $53bn, which will mark a decline on the $58bn during the same period last year.

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Growth in iPhone sales, which was 46pc a year ago, was just 0.4pc in the three months to the end of December.

Total revenue was $75.9bn, a marginal increase on last year. If sales of the iPhone have peaked already, then the downturn in trading will be painful.

Yesterday there was little if any mention of Apple Watch sales while Apple Music is under pressure from several competitors. 

Apple generates almost 70pc of its sales from the iPhone, 10pc from Apple Mac computers, 12pc from services such as iTunes, Beats headphones and 8pc from the iPad which is in serial decline. 

Tim Cook, Apple chief executive, said the firm was facing “extreme conditions, unlike anything we’ve seen before, just about everywhere we look”.

The impact of foreign currency fluctuations is hurting Apple’s sales when they are translated into dollars.

Analysts claim that Shares in Apple are looking extremely expensive given the slowing sales and falling profit margin, they also claim that the Apple cash pile of $250 Billion + doesn’t provide much comfort as the majority is held overseas and Apple has to issue bonds in the US to repatriate cash to pay dividends.

What I am tipping is that Apple has peaked and unless they pull a brand new product out of the hat they will become another Nokia, Blackberry or resort back to be Apple pre the iPod. 

One category that Apple was banking on was in movie streaming and TV’s, however Hollywood does not trust the Company due to prior relationship issues in the music market. 

12 months ago Apple executives were selectively leaking news that Apple planned to launch an online TV service in late 2015, that has not happened. They even built an Apple TV but because of the dominance that Samsung, LG, Sony and Panasonic have in the TV market they chose not to go down that route. 

Another big hurdle in the streaming market was Netflix who are reshaping the TV experience for consumers. Apple who could easily buy Netflix with some speculating at CES that this could happen one day. 

Apple has grappled with whether to manufacture a TV or launch a content service, the big problem is that video-streaming platforms are stealing the market Apple wants.

Insiders at Apple are telling me that if Steve Jobs had been at the helm he would have found a way to get into the TV market. 

The Wall street Journal said recently that unlike purchased digital libraries of yesteryear that locked consumers into one platform, streaming has significantly lowered the switching costs for music and video consumption. It is as easy to move back and forth among Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and YouTube as it is to listen to music across Apple Music, Spotify and Pandora.

For its part, Apple now seems to be taking a different approach. In September it announced the latest version of its Apple TV set-top box, with an operating system that allows developers to create TV apps in the same way they might create an iPhone app.

But while Apple may have created a superior experience, the new user interface is itself a reflection of how diffuse viewing habits have become. Apps for Netflix, Hulu and HBO Now sit next to iTunes on Apple TV.

Unlike the iTunes library, which once made it all but necessary to own an iPod, few streaming services are tied to specific hardware. 

In an app-based world, consumers can watch online video content on any smartphone or tablet. The vast majority of services can also be viewed on any device designed to bring content to the TV screen.

That has caused fragmentation in hardware as well. Google’s $35 Chromecast had the highest market share globally among digital-media- streaming devices in the third quarter of 2015 at 35% of shipments, according to a November report by Strategy Analytics.

In Australia Chromecast is outselling Apple TV.

This time next year we will have a clearer picture of where Apple is heading, shortly the Company will announce new iPhone including a smaller model but these cosmetic upgrades are not going to deliver the growth that Apple wants.
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