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Why Apple May Have The Price Right on its New iPhones

"Mickey Laguerre" (2019-10-07)

Why Apple May Have The Price Right on its New iPhones
Wall Street ponders whether new phones will boost average selling prices.
Apple's (AAPL - Get Report) new product releases announced Wednesday Sept. 12 were pretty juicy for the market.

The stock rose 2% Thursday, and several analysts reiterated 'buy' and 'outperform' ratings.

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The tech behemoth released the iPhone Xr, priced at $749, and the even more advanced iPhone Xs, priced at $1,000 and Xs Max at $1,100. With pricing of new phones slightly higher than Wall Street had expected, one of the questions for Apple now centers on how much demand there will be for each product, andwhat the average selling price will settle at for the year.

Goldman Sachs doesn't love the results. "The new LCD "XR" model was priced lower than we had thought likely," the bank said in an note out to clients. Goldman thinks the marginal consumer benefit wit the XR model, priced $50 higher than the 8+ takes selling the 8+ out of the equation, which Goldman had previously priced into its model. "This effectively obsoletes two iPhone 8/8+ SKUs in our opinion and drives us to reduce our ASP and earnings estimates, offset slightly by a higher unit forecast," the note added, as the Goldman analysts dropped their revenue forecast for the year by 3% to $278 billion. They dropped their earnings per share call by 5% to $13.77, and subsequently their price target to $240, which is still above The Street's $230.

Is the price right?
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But others on Wall Street are encouraged by Apple's pricing, saying it reduces the risk that average selling prices will flatline. The "iPhone announcement is likely to dispel that fear," Morgan Stanley wrote in a note out to clients Thursday morning. "Estimates move higher on iPhone ASP uplift," the note added, as the bank raised its revenue forecast by 4.3% and EPS forecast by 4%, while raising its price target to $247 from $245. Even though the global smartphone market has slowed of late, with global smartphone shipments falling 1.8% in the second-quarter year-over-year according to IDC Market Intelligence, Morgan Stanley isn't worried about Apple losing any demand.

"We keep our FY19 unit expectations unchanged," the note said. Part of that picture, at least in Morgan Stanley's view, is that the new phones offer a material upgrade, enabling pricing power. "The biggest technological upgrade in the new iPhone models that could influence unit growth is the integration of dual SIM capabilities, which will enable users to have two mobile numbers on one device," the note said. "This potential catalyst is especially important in China, as it puts Apple on par with local brands in a market where the typical wireless subscriber owns more than one SIM card." One of Apple's biggest competitors in China is Huawei, which offers dual sim card phones.

Others agree that Apple is getting it right on price. "From a pricing perspective, Apple has always been a premium player," Kevin Walkush, Portfolio Manager at Jensen Investment Management told TheStreet. "We believe that unit numbers will be higher, so you're going to have to trade off that viewpoint."

Competitive advantage
Apple may have competitive advantages in place as that premium player. "The hand sets are, yes, expensive, but they have really strong competitive advantage, and ultimately drive that ecosystem" Walkush, who just added to his clients' position in Apple, said. Apple's IOS system, services, and entire ecosystem within its phones keeps consumers loyal to iPhones, he thinks. "The user will be a lot more locked in," he said. "They [Apple] want to make it easy to switch within to keep you. It's really expensive to switch to Android, so it's pricing power for Apple."
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Apple services are expected to be the next big driver of earnings growth. Walkush says he's holding Apple shares mainly because of the promising services growth.
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Brand strength

Apple's brand could also be a huge savior for its iPhone sales. "In terms of branding they're still really high. That enables them to command price," Walkush added. "they're pretty good at what they've done for a long time." In fact, an Evercore ISI research note out earlier this week said "Apple rose to No. 1 on the 'must have' brand list, a position it last held in 2013." In Evercore's survey, 87% of people ages 13 to 23 said they'll buy the iPhone for their next smartphone.

Apple recently hit $1 trillion in market cap, and is up roughly 31% this year.

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