Apple shares were flat Wednesday morning, and Pacific Crest Securities downgraded the stock, citing stagnant iPhone growth and a “lack of compelling features” on the new Apple Watch.
Pacific Crest said it had downgraded Apple from outperform to perform, suggesting the new products unveiled Tuesday did not have enough “potential for upside estimates.”
“We continue to believe Apple’s strong customer loyalty will protect margins and cash flow, limiting downside in the shares,” Pac Crest said in a note. “However, unless Apple Watch proves to be a surprisingly large mass-market hit, we believe multiple contraction will offset earnings growth over the next year and prevent significant stock appreciation.”
Apple unveiled the iPhone 6 and larger iPhone 6 Plus at an event at the Cupertino-based Flint Center on Tuesday. Apple also took the wraps off its long-awaited watch and a new payments system called Apple Pay. The watch received mixed reaction from analysts in what was Apple’s first foray into the wearable tech space.
The market closely watched the event to see if Apple could shrug off accusations that it lacked innovation. Shares in the Cupertino-based technology giant rose Tuesday on the news of the iPhone and Apple Pay announcements, but fell after the Apple Watch was unveiled.
Brian Blair, managing director at Rosenblatt Securities, sees the Apple Watch and new mobile payments service as potentially healthy revenue centers. “People are going to have to raise their numbers for calendar year 2015 because we’re going to have two new revenue streams. The primary one is the watch obviously … and this can be a $20 billion or $30 billion business next year.”
“I think the payment opportunity is significant over time,” Blair told CNBC on Wednesday. “But they are only starting with about 200,000 payment locations that are going to accept this. And it’s going to take some time to build out that ecosystem. So that’s a bigger play longer term.”
In a “Squawk box” interview, he added: “If people feel they can make a credit card purchase with their device and authenticate that it’s actually them making that purchase at the point of sale, then they’re going to want the solution.”
Pac Crest was “impressed” by the iPhone 6 range but said the potential of these devices is already priced into the stock.
“We believe sales to new iPhone users will decline beyond the iPhone 6, which is likely to prevent iPhone unit growth in 2016 and beyond,” the note said.
Furthermore, Pac Crest said the Apple Watch is unlikely to be a profit driver. It expects Apple to sell 30 million smartwatches in 2015, pushing its full year earnings per share estimate to $7.96 from $7.58 and from to $7.88 from $7.29 in 2016, with little further upside.
“Apple Watch is attractive, but the need for phone tethering, short battery life, and lack of compelling features for people who do not want a watch will limit the market, in our view,” Pac Crest’s note said.
Apple Pay is also not likely to add “material profit.”
Apple an ‘average company’
Some analysts were more critical of Apple’s presentation. Peter Garnry, head of equity strategy at Saxo Bank, dubbed it “the night Apple became average,” suggesting increased competition and lack of “blockbuster” innovation could suggest that the technology giant on a slow downward spiral.
“(Isaac) Newton said that what goes up must come down, and this will likely happen to Apple. But the trip downwards can last for a long time,” Garnry said in a note.
“Apple is no longer a stock I would overweight. On the other hand, I would not short it either. It will just be an average company (due to its size) and it should occupy exactly such a place in one’s portfolio.”