Hey, Citi: Apple's Still a Champion


Apple (NAS: AAPL) can't seem to catch a break.

The stock finally broke north of $600 last week. It was the first time since late April that the world's most valuable tech company was trading above that round mark.

Well, Apple broke below $600 this morning after Citigroup analysts removed the stock from the firm's "Champions" list.

Let's put this into its proper perspective. Citi's Champions list represents stocks that are attractive based on both valuation and momentum. This certainly seems like an odd time to be penalizing Apple. Momentum was finally turning positive after two months of sector rotation out of the tech bellwether.

Then we get to the valuation, and it's hard to make an argument that isn't bullish on that front. Apple is now trading at just 13 times this fiscal year's earnings forecast. We just started the final quarter in that period this month. Apple's also fetching just 11 times next fiscal year's projected profitability, and that period begins in October.

It's not perfect out there for Apple. China -- rapidly becoming a very big market for Apple -- is showing signs of weakness. There are plenty of iPad and iPhone challengers coming out in the near term. Wireless carriers are tiring of the meaty subsidies that they have to shell out in carrying the iPhone. However, even the most bearish of analysts sees Apple growing at higher rates than its bottom-line multiples suggest.

Citi wasn't necessarily cleaning house on its updated list. General Electric (NYS: GE) , Johnson & Johnson (NYS: JNJ) , and Ford (NYS: F) were all added.

Those are certainly solid names -- and as a Ford shareholder and car owner, I like that particular move -- but are any of these three companies really more attractively priced than Apple?

GE is trading at a similar 11 times forward earnings multiple, but it's only growing its top line these days in the single digits. Johnson & Johnson is also growing its revenue in the single digits, yet it commands a price that is 12 times next year's target. Ford may be trading at a 2013 bottom-line multiple that's half of what GE, Johnson & Johnson, and Apple are fetching, but we're talking about a volatile industry and a company with chunky pension obligations.

This doesn't mean that I don't see the allure of the three additions, but it just doesn't make sense for Apple to get booted. We've seen what betting against Apple has meant for naysayers over the past few years.

It will happen again.

Apple jacks
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The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford Motor and Johnson & Johnson. The Fool owns shares of Apple.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Johnson & Johnson, Ford Motor, and Apple.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended creating a diagonal call position in Johnson & Johnson.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended creating a synthetic long position in Ford Motor. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days.Longtime Fool contributorRick Munarrizcalls them as he sees them. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story, except for Ford. Rick is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.

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