Apple Shares Are Underpriced Unless iPhone Sales Collapse

June 7, 2016, 5:44 PM UTC
CUPERTINO, CA - MARCH 21: Apple VP Greg Joswiak announces the new iPhone SE during an Apple special event at the Apple headquarters on March 21, 2016 in Cupertino, California. The company is expected to update its iPhone and iPad lines, and introduce new bands for the Apple Watch. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Photograph by Justin Sullivan Getty Images

Apple remains the most highly valued publicly traded company, but even at $548 billion it’s worth only about three-quarters of what it was worth a year ago.

Given the track record of one-time mobile phone market leaders such as Motorola, Nokia, Blackberry, and HTC, many investors fear that Apple’s inevitable decline has set in. In April, after all, Apple reported its first annual decline in iPhone sales ever, with sales slipping 16% in the first three months of 2016.

But with new products on the horizon–from the predictable annual iPhone update to the company’s rumored work on electric cars and virtual reality–it’s difficult to figure out if the current stock price is too high, too low or just right. To help sort through the various possible scenarios, UBS analyst Steven Milunovich on Tuesday published an attempt to model Apple’s potential sales and profit trends through six scenarios, ranging from complete collapse (“a Blackberry-style decline”) to a huge success (“Apple Motors”).

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Not surprisingly given the stock’s almost 25% drop over the past year, Apple’s (AAPL) current share price of about $99 meets the expectations of Milunovich’s second-worst outcome. That scenario assumes that smartphone sales follow the trend set by PC sales over the past decade and gradually decline.

“If iPhone goes the way of the PC at 5-10% annual declines, the stock could be worth about today’s price,” Milunovich writes. “Given the size of the iPhone and historical difficulty in maintaining hardware margins, this is a reasonable possibility though probably too negative.”

In the Blackberry (BBRY) scenario, which the analyst considers unlikely, iPhone sales would tail off precipitously by an average of 30% annually for the next three years, profit margins would shrink, and no new Apple product would rise to offset the declines elsewhere. Apple shares could be worth only around $70, about a 30% drop, which is nothing compared to the 80% loss by Blackberry shares over the past 10 years.

“This view discounts the fact that Apple has reinvented itself with new products multiple times and has been the most influential company over the past decade in shaping what we expect from our interactions with technology,” the analyst writes.

The sunnier scenarios consider what could happen if Apple developed new products that are not as successful as the iPhone but still substantial hits. Also, Apple’s revenue from services like sales of cloud storage, iTunes movies and the company’s music service could keep growing strongly. And finally, the rumored car could be a big hit.

The lesser scenarios suggest Apple shares are undervalued by at least 20% to 40%, while an automotive success could result in even larger gains for investors. Milunovich concedes that the car scenario should be considered a “moonshot” that would be “highly unlikely” to be successfully predicted.

For more on Apple’s rumored car plans, watch:

Even if Apple quickly matched electric car leader Tesla Motors’ (TSLA) annual auto revenue of just under $4 billion, it would hardly be noticeable to investors. But if Apple introduces a car in 2020 and racks up 2 million sales annually by 2023, it could generate ten times Tesla’s current revenue. And that could drive the stock price above $170, Milunovich says.

There’s no way to know yet whether such lofty goals are achievable, but the report thus gives a sense of just how big a bet Apple must make and win to repeat the incredible stock market performance that carried it to its current peak.

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