The Beginning of the Apple Analyst Downgrade Cycle

Apple-storeApple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) has fallen from grace as far as being the darling of Wall Street. If you took away the emotion and the hype and compare the chart peak and the performance of some past charts of great sector leaders, there is a reason to be concerned. Still, this is Apple and the public's affinity for this company is what it is.

Now that we have at least two analyst downgrades (formal and/or estimates) this Monday, the question to ask is whether or not the downgrade cycle for Apple's beloved stock is still just beginning. Apple shares are down 1% so far on Monday around $504.00 ad the risk is that Apple is now about to break under the $500 handle in its stock. If you look at the intraday prices of Apple, the last day that Apple's stock traded under the $500 mark was back on February 16, 2012. That being said, investors do need to consider that Apple's stock is still up about 25% year to date.

The biggest cut came from Citigroup. The analyst team cut the rating to Neutral from Buy and slashed its price target down to $575 from $675. The downgrade from Monday is on the heels of caution from both UBS and Jefferies late last week. We have seen the formal report from Canaccord Genuity cutting its targets for Apple, and we have seen reports that Pacific Crest also lowered its estimates and targets on Apple as well.

Here is a quote from the Canaccord Genuity research note from T. Michael Walkley, who maintained a "Buy" rating but cut the price target to $750 from $800:

While our November channel checks indicated very strong sales of the iPhone 5, we are slightly lowering our F2013 and F2014 iPhone and iPad estimates due to softer sales expectations in international markets, primarily in Europe. While order reductions to iPhone suppliers are not unusual this time of year, we believe reduced iPhone 5 orders for the March quarter could also indicate an earlier launch of new iPhone products in the June quarter. Despite our slightly lowered estimates, we believe Apple's industry-leading software ecosystem and integrated hardware experience will result in a strong multi-year product cycle.

Apple shares have briefly hit under that $500 mark so far on Monday as the intraday low was $499.70. The shares are currently around the $504 handle and the 52-week trading range has been $380.48 to $705.07.

Perhaps the biggest call of analysts came from portfolio manager Robert Kleinschmidt of Toccqueville Asset Management. He recently told Fortune that he would recommend to buy shares of Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ: MSFT) and to sell shares of Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL). That was in late November or early December and his thesis was that Microsoft is cheap in valuation with limited downside while Apple was compared to as having the risks of Sony in the past. That being said, Kleinschmidt did include the caveat that Apple is not an expensive stock even though the sentiment may be wrong in the "infallible" status.

As a reminder, for Apple shares to rally the $201 to recapture a new 52-week high it will in theory require a sum nearing $200 billion in new investment inflows to get the stock back up there. For a comparison of just how large that is, that is roughly equal to the entire market capitalization rate of AT&T, Inc. (NYSE: T).

As a reminder, Wall Street analysts just about always chase price targets on the way up and back on the way down. That is what we are seeing here.

JON C. OGG


Filed under: 24/7 Wall St. Wire, Analyst Calls, Consumer Electronics, Technology Companies Tagged: AAPL, MSFT, T

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