The times certainly look to be changing over at Apple. The company that has been the stock market darling for the better part of the last decade finally looks as though it has hit a substantial pocket of product saturation and, as a result now, is starting to offer deals and incentives that it never has before in order to move product.
HSBC downgraded Apple to hold from buy and cut its 12-month price target to $200 from $205, citing too much dependence on a single product and slowing emerging markets economies. The note from the HSBC analysts said:
“Apple’s iconic hardware unit growth is broadly over for now. Revenues are only supported by higher selling prices and by the development of services. Flat unit growth has hit Apple’s share price and incidentally its key suppliers. What has made the success of Apple, a concentrated portfolio of highly desirable (and pricy) products is now facing the reality of market saturation.”
And AAPL's share price is falling once again in the pre-market...
Bloomberg recently reported that Apple is now implementing strategies like promotions and device buybacks in order to help boost sales of iPhones.
Beginning in October the company has moved some of its marketing staff to start work on methods of boosting iPhone sales. A person familiar with the matter described it as a "fire drill" and it looks to possibly confirm that the company's devices are selling below expectations.
Since October, the company has implemented trade-in offers that have helped offset the cost of its latest round of iPhones – a strategy that seems odd for a company that has done nothing but raise device prices to lift ASP over the last couple of years.
Last Sunday, the company posted a banner on top of its website advertising the new iPhone XR for just $449 if you trade in an iPhone 7 Plus. The XR usually sells for $779.
And it looks as though the bad news is going to continue. Cirrus Logic, an iPhone supplier, cut its forecast on Monday about 16% due to "recent weakness in the smartphone market". Over the past quarter, Apple also decided it was gonna stop reporting the number of iPhones that it sold on a quarterly basis. Analyst Woo Jin Ho with Bloomberg stated that the lowered guidance "suggests a reduction in iPhone unit output of about 10 million to 14 million units."
This lowering of this price flies in the face of the key excuse that analysts have been using for years with the iPhone: higher prices will make up for fewer sales.
Last week, the company also started offering a promotion that will boost the trade in value of older iPhones. It was reported that Apple retail employees have been told to make customers aware of the program in stores. And while last year there were some similar worries about the iPhone X, the product ultimately wound up selling well. This time it feels a little bit different.
Wedbush Securities analyst Daniel Ives told Bloomberg:
"Investors are very focused on the longer term strategy and growth outside of iPhones, given what we’ve seen now coming out of this last iPhone cycle. In a fearful technology environment, investors aren’t going to give Apple the benefit of the doubt."
The company is working on new products and services, including driverless car technology and original video. The services segment of its business has been one of the only steadily growing revenue segments for the company over the last several quarters. But these new ideas are far riskier than the bread-and-butter of Apple's iPhone sales, which are the backbone of the company’s revenue stream.
Michael Olson, an analyst at Piper Jaffray, asked what is likely the most important question:
"The question yet again is ‘what’s the next phase of innovation?’"