Investors continue to lap up the Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) phenomenon. In the five weeks that have passed since Apple released its FY 2012 first quarter bumper earnings, the stock has seen tremendous buying interest, rallying more than 30% and crossing the enviable milestone of a $500 billion market cap on Tuesday. As the stock inches closer to our fair price estimate of $550, there is speculation as to whether Apple can become the world’s first trillion dollar company.   Here we take a look at what it would take for Apple to reach these heights using our modifiable charts.
Summary of key drivers:
Before we go any further, let’s first consider the historical trends of Apple’s main drivers of growth first.
- iPhone market share: iPhone’s global mobile phone market share has steadily increased from zero at the start of 2007 to around 5.4% now. 5% may not seem like a a big market share but Apple deals primarily in smartphones and the market size we have considered is the global mobile phone estimate, which includes a huge number of feature phones sold in emerging markets as well.
- iPhone pricing: iPhone pricing has in fact increased over the last two years and stands at around $630 as of 2011. The iPhone’s incredible popularity has helped Apple maintain premium pricing and command a huge 80% of the industry’s total profits in Q4 2011.
- iPhone gross margins: iPhone margins have declined since the launch of the iPhone in 2007, when it was over 60% to what was around 55% in 2011.
- iPad unit sales: iPad was launched in April 2010 and sold around 15 million iPads in 2010. 2011 saw iPad sales shoot up almost 275% in just the second year since launch.
90% upside to Trefis price estimate | Apple’s stock value of $1053
1. Faster increase in iPhone market share (+25%):
We expect iPhone’s global mobile phone market share to increase to around 13% by the end of our forecast period. However, the iPhone is Apple’s flagship product and contributes more than 50% of our price estimate. So, even a small outperformance in respect to its market share will have a huge impact on Apple’s valuation.
The company has been posting an average annual growth of close to 90% in iPhone sales over the last three years. Last quarter saw the iPhone set a new quarterly record of 37 million unit sales, with the phenomenal iPhone 4S’ success playing a big role. If Apple continues to set the same scorching pace in the coming years, the upside to our price estimate could be huge.
A number of factors could help Apple maintain its historical growth rates. Rapid expansion of operations in overseas markets, addition of new carriers and iPhone sales in emerging markets such as China present huge opportunities to increase market share. (see Apple Can Penetrate Emerging Markets by Riding Side Saddle with More Carriers) Apple has already added two of China’s three carriers to its list of carriers that sell the iPhone and a deal with China Mobile is on the cards after the recent Qualcomm announcement. Meanwhile, developed markets may see little traction for competing smartphones such as the BlackBerry and the Lumia, further bolstering Apple’s share. The release of a LTE-enabled iPhone 5 later this year could also see Apple beat previous quarterly records.
These triggers could propel iPhone’s market share higher than we currently forecast. There could be upside of 25% to our estimates if iPhone market share exceeds our current end-of-period estimate by 4.4%.
2. Slower decline in iPhone pricing (+20%):
We currently forecast average iPhone prices to decline to around $400 by the end of Trefis forecast period as Apple enters emerging markets and increasing competition forces Apple to cut prices beyond the customary slashing of prices of the older models in the future.
However, iPhone’s average pricing has increased over the last two years as continued demand for the newer as well as higher-end versions (32GB/64GB) of the iPhone have supported prices while Apple has reduced prices for the older ones. Traditionally, Apple has targeted only the high-paying customers and not aimed for a mass market presence unlike its competitors.
These factors could mean that iPhone pricing could decline at a slower rate than what we forecast. There could be an upside of 20% to our estimate for Apple stock if iPhone pricing remains resilient at the 2011 price of $630 till the end of the forecast period.
3. Slower decline to iPhone’s gross margins (+20%):
We currently estimate that iPhone’s gross margins will decline to around 40% by the end of Trefis forecast period. However, if Apple manages to sustain higher iPhone pricing levels, its margins could also stay high.
Input costs are likely to remain constant or even decline as technology improves and Apple buys out smaller companies that help reduce its supply costs. Earlier this year, Apple announced that it had bought Israeli startup Anobit, a move that would bring down NAND flash memory costs for Apple. Moreover, we have also seen Apple diligently manage its supply chain issues in the past. In the first quarter of last year, when the whole mobile phone industry was reeling from the supply chain aftershocks of the earthquake in Japan, Apple managed to post better than expected iPhone sales. (see Apple Avoids Hiccups in Supply Chain, Raising Estimates on iPhone Outlook).
If Apple continues to handle the pricing and input cost issues well, its gross margins may decline at a slower rate to what we forecast. If the iPhone gross margins reach around 50% by the end of Trefis forecast period, there could be an upside of 20% to our price estimate for Apple stock.
4. Faster increase in iPad unit sales (+15%):
The iPad debuted in early 2010, spawning a new market segment of mobile devices and sending Apple’s stock even higher. Many competitors have tried to enter this still relatively nascent market segment but none have come close to threatening the iPad’s dominance. Even the much touted Kindle Fire, a 7-inch Amazon tablet which was released last quarter, made hardly a dent to the iPad which set a new record of more than 15 million unit sales in a single quarter.
A big reason for the recent run-up is that the market expects the announcement of the iPad 3 on March 7, which the company has set as the date for a media event. The iPad is the second most valuable business for Apple after the iPhone and accounts for just under 13% of our Apple price estimate, but if the nascent market sees an explosion in demand over the coming quarters, the iPad could command a bigger chunk of our estimates.
Gartner estimates that the tablet market will grow to 326 million unit sales in 2015, or about 50% average annual growth rate.  If Apple is able to grow its iPad sales at only 35% annually, its sales at the end of 2018 would be around 330 million, about thrice our current estimate of 120 million. That could add another 15% upside to our price estimate for Apple stock.
5. Slower decline in iPad pricing (+5%):
We currently forecast average iPad prices to decline to around $430 by the end of our forecast period as the iPad is part of a nascent market segment and hence subject to heavy competitive pressures from new entrants.
However, as we have seen with the Kindle Fire and the Nook, which both undercut the iPad almost to a half, the iPad’s sales were hardly affected. If the iPad continues to find as many takers as it has in the past, there may not be a pressing need for Apple to decrease its prices.
These factors could mean that the iPad pricing could decline at a slower rate than what we forecast. There could be an upside of 5% to our estimate for Apple stock if iPad pricing declines slowly to reach about $530 by the end of Trefis forecast period.
6. A new iProduct (+5%)
So far, we have considered only Apple’s existing products. What if Apple comes out with a new, innovative product such as the much rumored Apple iTV set-top box, and it kicks off like the iPhone or the iPad? Since it will be a new product and we have no idea what impact this would have on Apple’s valuation, we have not shown it in the illustration below. Therefore, we are assuming only a small 5% upside. But the halo effect of the iPhone and the iPad on the next iProduct could be huge, and the consequent upside to our price estimate much more than the 5% assumed.
But therein lies the biggest risk to Apple’s stock.
Apple’s success has hinged on its ability to surprise the market with one innovative product after another. Should it fail even once, the market euphoria will die down. Also, the law of large numbers. Apple has so far bucked the trend by tapping nascent markets, or as in the case of the iPad, by creating one. But how long will the Apple juggernaut roll on? Only time will tell. But what we can say is that if the company continues to rise as meteorically as it has in the recent past, the first trillion dollar company may not be so far along.Notes:
- Apple: $1 Trillion Market Cap Inevitable Despite Earnings Growth Deceleration, SeekingAlpha, February 21st, 2012 [↩]
- Apple: Just Halfway There, DailyFinance, February 29th, 2012 [↩]
- Gartner Says Apple Will Have a Free Run in Tablet Market Holiday Season as Competitors Continue to Lag, September 22nd, 2011 [↩]