You have to be impressed how Apple shares have been trading during the Washington shutdown and the debt ceiling crisis. While other highflying technology stocks have crashed and burned, Apple has held like the Rock of Gibraltar. Is this presaging much better things to come?
After the bar was set extremely low in the run up to the iPhone 5s launch, there has been an onslaught of good news. The first weekend sales came in at a staggering 9 million units, nearly double analyst forecasts. That?s a lot of units to be wrong by.
This has led to a series of broker upgrades by Cantor Fitzgerald, Cowen & Co., Piper Jaffray, Sanford Bernstein, and most recently by Jeffries. Entrenched bears are slowly an inexorably turning into bulls. Targets range up to $780.
During the summer, when the shares were trading in the low $400?s, Apple emerged as the largest buyer of its own stock. Still, it only made a dent in the $60 billion the company has dedicated to the program.
Of course, corporate raider and green mailer Carl Icahn (he lived in my building in Manhattan and was always a bit of a jerk) wants Apple to buy $160 billion of its stock, about $36% of the total market capitalization. But with a position of only $2 billion, Carl doesn?t have enough skin in the game to get anything more than a free dinner from CEO Tim Cook. Still, the more Icahn bangs the drum about the value of Apple, the more money he sucks in. His blustering has probably added about $50 to the stock price. That works for me.
Like the Origin of the Universe and the 105-year long losing streak suffered by the Chicago Cubs baseball team, the cheapness of Apple shares is one of those mysteries that baffle investors. Sure, you?d expect some natural profit taking after the meteoric 15 year run in the shares, from $4 to $707. But 46% is a lot, and many would say too much.
The company earns an eye popping net profits of $3.5 million per business hour (click here for the most recent quarterly announcement). Some one-third of it capitalization, or $150 billion, sits in cash in European bank accounts. That works out to $165 of the current $490 share price. This brings the ex cash trailing price earnings multiple down to a subterranean 11.8 times, or a 25% discount to the 16X market multiple. The dividend yield of 2.5% still exceeds that of the ten year Treasury bond. This is absurdly cheap.
Anyone who makes their living looking at the numbers has been loading up on the stock for the past eight months. Even permabear and short seller, Jim Chanos, has been buying on the theory that both Apple and competitor Samsumg together have been demolishing the Wintel architecture.
I think there is something important going on here. Apple is bringing out the next generation iPad in two weeks. Product refreshes for the iMac, Macbook, and Airbook in coming months are already well known. Every time an announcement of an announcement is made, the stock spikes $10.
But the 800-pound gorilla in Apples earnings stream is the iPhone, which accounts for more than 70% of its profits. The wildly successful 5s and 5c launches will take total smart phone sales from around 36 million in Q3 to at least 56 million units in Q4. The analyst community is nowhere near these numbers, so they are substantially underestimating the profitability of the company.
Apple has already cracked the China market for cash buyers with the latest upgrade of its wireless operating system. The whale here is a deal with China Mobile (CHL) with its 740 million customers, which has been to subject to on again and off again negations for years. Still, Apple has already told its manufacturers to add China Mobile to its approved carrier list.
I think the stock is beginning to discount pending the launch of the iPhone 6, which is still a distant 11 months away. That will take the company another generation ahead, with an expansive six-inch screen and a blazing fast A8 processor, leaving competitors in the dust. The business is so big that my favorite airline, Virgin America, has initiated nonstop service from San Francisco to Austin. I?m told the plane is always full.
All of this leads me to believe that Apple will be a major mover in 2014. The chip shot is $600, and we get a real head of steam into the iPhone 6 rollout, we could match the old high at $707. You can buy the stock here with some conform. If you are hyper aggressive, try playing the weekly call options on the next breakout. The more cautious can settle for the Technology Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLK), or the ProShares Ultra Technology 2X leveraged ETF (ROM). Apple has major weightings in both of these ETF?s.