x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Hot Apple's pie remains intact but shares cool off

Apple, the world's most valuable company, is losing its lustre with investors.

This holiday season is shaping up to be a record-breaking period for Apple as shoppers snap up iPhones and iPads.

Despite this, the world's most valuable company is losing its lustre with investors.

Apple began selling the iPhone 5 on September 21, the same day the company's stock hit an all-time peak of US$705.07 per share.

Since then, the shares have plunged nearly 25 per cent, trimming the company's market value by more than US$150 billion (Dh550.84bn). On Friday, the stock fell almost 3 per cent and closed at $533.25.

Smartphones and tablets "are starting to become more like commodities", said the BGC Financial analyst Colin Gillis. "And how much upside is left if you are stuck in a commodities business? The question is: What is going to get Apple going again?"

The iPad mini is undoubtedly diverting some sales from full-sized iPads, which sell at prices ranging from $399 to $829. That is one of the reasons Mr Gillis expects the iPad's average selling price to fall by about $50 in the current quarter, which ends this month. That would be a 9 per cent decline from the iPad's average price of $535 during the July to the end of September period.

Disagreements over Apple's decline are contributing to unusual volatility in the stock. On Wednesday, Apple's stock fell 6.4 per cent, the biggest one-day drop in more than four years. Just two and half weeks ago, the stock surged 7.2 per cent for its biggest one-day gain in three years.

There's no consensus regarding the cause but one thing is clear: there have been more investors eager to sell Apple's stock than buy it in recent months, despite all the evidence indicating Apple's products have never been more popular.

Even if it's no longer the market leader, the iPhone remains hotter than ever. Based on figures released by the wireless carrier AT&T last week, the Jefferies analyst Peter Misek predicted Apple would sell 53 million iPhones this quarter, primarily the newest model. That would be a more than 40 per cent increase from Apple's previous one-quarter record of 37 million iPhones set in the period covering last year's holiday shopping season.

But some investors are starting to wonder if Apple can conjure up another revolutionary product to catapult the company on another multi-year stretch of breakneck sales growth.

Most analysts believe Apple's next breakthrough will be a television that shares the same operating system as the iPhone and iPad. An Apple TV would give the company a prized perch on the biggest screen in most households and open up an array of new business opportunities.

"When I go into my living room and turn on the TV, I feel like I have gone backwards in time by 20 to 30 years," the chief executive Tim Cook said. "It's an area of intense interest. I can't say more than that."

Mr Gillis, though, points out savvy investors probably would not be selling their Apple shares if they truly believed the stock was destined to soar higher and make them even richer a year from now.

"Sometimes, stocks just take a breather," he said.

"And when you get to be as big as Apple, any shift in sentiment can have a material impact on the share price."

* AP