According to the numbers, Apple’s battered stock is one of the best bargains of all time. Since hitting a high of almost $700 last fall, shares have plummeted 37 percent, to $442, including a 12 percent drop in late January after Apple posted flat year-over-year profits, which bitterly disappointed the Street. Apple now trades at just over 10 times last year’s profits and roughly eight times Wall Street’s estimate of next year’s earnings — well below the average of the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index. Plus, Apple is set to begin paying a dividend of $10.60 a share, well above the yield on Treasuries.
Fortune estimates that 29 of 36 analysts covering Apple rate it some form of buy, with a median price target of $605 per share. One analyst, who dubbed the company the “trillion dollar baby” based on his belief that Apple will one day have a market value that exceeds $1 trillion, still maintains his price target of $880 per share.
Maybe so. But scratch beneath the surface, and there is an argument that Apple isn’t so much a great bargain as it is a classic “value trap” — a company whose stock price is depressed for good reason.
Start by looking closely at what has been the driver of Apple’s phenomenal growth — the iPhone, which accounted for just over 50 percent of Apple’s fiscal 2012 revenues and almost two-thirds of profits, according to one longtime Apple analyst.
Although Apple did hit estimates for iPhone sales in its last quarter, the stock declined in part because of intimations that the age of the iPhone might be coming to an end. “Fight to unseat iPhone intensifies,” wrote the Wall Street Journal in late January, which said that while two-thirds of the smartphones Verizon said it activated in the fourth quarter were Apple devices, more than half were older, heavily discounted models. The Journal also reported that iPhone sale srose less than the overall increase in the global smartphone market. Meanwhile, a Reuters piece reported that in Singapore and Hong Kong, Apple’s share of mobile devices seems to be falling. Reuters noted that these regions are leading indicators of what’s going to be hot in Western Europe and North America.