Apple Gets Downgraded From Incredible to Just Plain Great


It's been relatively slow on the Apple news feed today, with little analyst chatter making the rounds today. One of the only analysts providing commentary is Needham's Charlie Wolf, who has reduced his price target after tweaking some of his estimates on long-term iPhone trends.

Wolf notes that Mac sales have been disappointing lately, causing him to reduce his valuation of that business by an incredible 43% since the company missed consensus unit estimates on Mac sales by roughly 1 million. That was primarily related to the considerable supply constraints that Apple was facing with the newly redesigned iMac, since the friction-stir welding process being used in manufacturing is currently plagued with low yields.

Tim Cook said iMac units alone were down roughly 700,000, which covers the majority of that miss but he also warned investors during the October conference call that the desktop would see significant constraints.

The analyst also reduced his long-term estimate of the iPhone, believing that Apple's flagship smartphone will see its market share stabilize around 20% -- down from his prior 22% estimate. Concerns over iPad Mini margins led Wolf to also trim his valuation of the iPad business.

After everything was said and done, what kind of damage are Apple investors looking at? "Just" 57% gains if Wolf's $710 price target comes to fruition relative to the $450 level that shares are now flirting with. That's down from his previous price target of $750 (implied gain of 67%), but Needham is reiterating its buy rating even as the analyst was toning down some of his estimates.

Wolf notes that if the iPhone business continues to decelerate, that would have a disproportionate impact on his overall valuation, since the device continues to be the big moneymaker. Still, eventually I still believe that the iPad will become the primary revenue driver and that's the inflection point that investors are still waiting for.

As it stands, Apple remains one of the cheapest stocks on the market, fetching multiples on par with grocers with razor-thin margins and mature department stores. When will the market fully appreciate Apple's cash machine again? Perhaps when it starts giving more of that cash back.

There's a debate raging as to whether Apple remains a buy. The Motley Fool's senior technology analyst and managing bureau chief, Eric Bleeker, is prepared to fill you in on both reasons to buy and reasons to sell Apple, and what opportunities are left for the company (and your portfolio) going forward. To get instant access to his latest thinking on Apple, simply click here now.

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Fool contributor Evan Niu, CFA, owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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