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Why a Leading Bullish Apple Analyst Yanked His “Outperform” Rating

February 2, 2018, 7:16 PM UTC

One of the most respected analysts who follows Apple downgraded his rating on the stock on Friday to “market perform” from “outperform” and slashed his price target to $170 from $195.

The move by Toni Sacconaghi, of Bernstein Research, came after Apple reported earnings for the holiday quarter that included a decline in total iPhone sales and forecasted sales in the following quarter that were lower than Wall Street had expected.

Investors were dismayed by the earnings report, causing Apple’s shares to drop 3% in midday trading on Friday to $162.35, on top of losing 7% in the previous two weeks. But Sacconaghi said the results “were worse than many investors may realize.” He pointed out that Apple’s 77.3 million iPhone sold in the quarter included 4.2 million that were only added to inventory at stores, not sold to customers, the highest number ever.

Along with several other analysts on Friday, including Steve Milunovich at UBS, Sacconaghi also said it was becoming clear that the latest lineup of iPhones had not sparked a massive wave of consumers with older models upgrading their phones, a prediction dubbed the “super cycle,” which had helped drive Apple’s stock price up 45% since early 2017.

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“The verdict is in: relative to expectations, the cycle is weak, and total iPhones sold are likely to be flat for the third straight year,” Sacconagahi wrote in a report on Friday.

Sacconaghi also slashed his forecast for Apple (AAPL) earnings per share for the next two years. Apple will bring in $10.88 per share in its fiscal year 2018, 8% less than his prior forecast of $11.80; and $11.86 in 2019, 10% less than the prior forecast of $13.06. Apple’s EPS totaled $9.21 in fiscal 2017.

Apple CEO Tim Cook defended the company’s iPhone sales on a call with analysts on Thursday, noting that even though the number of devices sold declined, price hikes helped iPhone sales revenue increase 13% to a record $61.6 billion.

And Cook repeatedly noted that Apple’s holiday quarter this year has only 13 weeks compared to 14 weeks in the year-ago quarter. Looking at sales per week, the number of iPhones sold rose, he said.