Trading the New Apple in 2020

Not a day goes by when someone doesn’t ask me about what to do about Apple (AAPL).

After all, it is the world largest publicly-traded company at a $1.2 trillion market capitalization. It is the planet’s most widely owned stock. Almost everyone uses their products in some form or another. It buys back more of its own stock than any other company on the planet. Oh yes, it is also one of Warren Buffet’s favorite picks.

So, the widespread adulation is totally understandable.

Apple is a company with which I have a very long relationship. During the early 1980s, I was ordered by Morgan Stanley to take Steve Jobs around to the big New York Institutional Investors to pitch a secondary share offering for the sole reason that I was one of three people who worked for the firm who was then from California.

They thought one West Coast hippy would easily get along with another. Boy, were they wrong, me in my three-piece navy blue pinstripe suit and Steve in his work Levi’s. It was the worst day of my life. Steve was not a guy who palled around with anyone. He especially hated investment bankers.

I got into Apple with my personal account when the company only had four weeks of cash flow remaining and was on the verge of bankruptcy. I got in at $7 which, on a split-adjusted basis today, is 50 cents. I still have them. In fact, my cost basis in Apple is less than the 77-cent quarterly dividend now.

Today, some 200 Apple employees subscribe to the Diary of a Mad Hedge Fund Trader looking to diversify their substantial holdings. Many own Apple stock with an adjusted cost basis of under $5. Suffice it to say, they all drive really nice Priuses.

So I get a lot of information about the firm far above and beyond the normal effluent of the media and stock analysts. That’s why Apple has become a favorite target of my Trade Alerts over the years.

And here is the great irony: Nobody would touch the stock with a ten-foot pole at the end of 2018. Since then, Apple has rallied 71%, creating more market cap in a year than any company in history.

Here’s why. Apple was all about the iPhone which then accounted for 75% of its total earnings. The TV, the watch, the car, the iPod, the iMac, and Apple Pay were all a waste of time and consumed far more coverage than they are collectively worth.

The good news is that iPhone sales are subject to a fairly predictable cycle. Apple launches a major new iPhone every other fall. The share price peaks shortly after that. The odd years see minor upgrades, not generational changes.

Just like you see a big pullback in the tide before a tsunami hits, iPhone sales are flattening out between major upgrades. This is because consumers start delaying purchases in expectation of the introduction of the new iPhones 7 more power, gadgets, and gizmos.

So during those in-between years, the stock performance was disappointing. 2018 certainly followed this script with Apple down a horrific 30.13% at the lows. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but the previous generation in Apple shares in 2015 brought a decline of, you guessed it, exactly 29.33%.

The coming quarter could bring quite the opposite.

After March, things will start to get interesting, especially post the Q1 earnings report in April. That’s when investors will start to discount the rollout of the new 5G iPhone seven months later. Everyone and his brother is waiting for 5G until they purchase their next iPhone, unless it gets lost or stolen first.

The last time this happened, in 2018, Apple stock rocketed by $86, or 55.33%. This time, I expect a minimum rally to $400 high, or much higher. After all, I am such a conservative guy with my predictions (Dow 120,000 by 2030?).

Even at that price, it will still be one of the cheaper stocks in the market on a valuation basis which currently trades at a 20X earnings multiple. The is up from a subterranean multiple of 14X a year ago. The value players will have no choice to join in, if they’re not already there.

But Apple is a much bigger company this time around, and well-established cycles tend to bring in diminishing returns. It’s like watching the declining peaks of a bouncing rubber ball.

This is not your father’s Apple anymore. Services like iTunes and the new Apple+ streaming service are accounting for an even larger share of the company’s profits. And guess what? Services companies command much higher multiples than boring old hardware ones. It’s the old questions of linear versus exponential growth.

A China trade deal will bring a new spring to Apple’s step, where sales have recently been in free fall. Their new membership lease program promises to deliver a faster upgrade cycle that will allow higher premium prices for their products. That will bring larger profits.

It all adds up to keeping Apple as a core to any long term portfolio.

Just thought you’d like to know.