Apple May Move 30% of Its iPhone Production From China. This Analyst Disagrees
Apple is considering moving a substantial portion of its iPhone production from China to avoid any additional import tariffs imposed by the Trump Administration. But one analyst believes any shift in manufacturing would be much smaller.
On Wednesday, the Nikkei Asian Review cited unidentified sources who said Apple has asked its top suppliers to evaluate moving up to 30% of iPhone production out of China. Apple hasn’t placed a deadline on the proposals, according to the report, but is concerned that a possible $300 billion U.S. tariff against China-made goods would drive iPhone manufacturing costs higher. Apple could decide to transfer as little as 15% of its iPhone production out of China, according to the report.
“With or without the final round of the $300 billion tariff, Apple is following the big trend [to diversify production],” one unidentified source told the Nikkei Asian Review, suggesting Apple could still decide to move production even if the tariffs aren’t levied.
But Wedbush analyst Dan Ives sees it differently. In a note to investors on Wednesday, Ives cast doubt that Apple could move up to 30% of its iPhone production from China anytime soon. He said it’s more likely Apple would only be able to move a small portion of its China-based iPhone production in the near future.
“We believe realistically in a best case scenario Apple would be able to move 5%-7% of its iPhone production likely to India in the next 12 to 18 months,” Ives told investors. “Moving 15% of its iPhone production from China to other regions (India and Vietnam would be top candidates) would take at least 2-3 years in our opinion.”
Ives added that Apple’s supply chain is so sophisticated and important to the company’s bottom line that moving substantial iPhone production out of China too quickly could cause problems in the supply chain or even drive Apple’s manufacturing costs higher.
In an interview with Fortune, Bill Ho, an analyst at 556 Ventures, said Apple is trying to get a full picture from its suppliers, who actually operate the manufacturing facilities, to see what’s feasible. But he cautioned that Apple would ultimately need to make a final, political calculation.
“The costs would be higher,” if Apple stayed in China, Ho said, but the political risk of leaving China and angering consumers in that critical market, could be enough “to overcome those higher costs.”
That said, Apple has already dabbled in moving iPhone production to other countries. The company’s manufacturing contractor Wistron has been producing its low-cost iPhone SE in India for the last two years. Reports from India this year also said that Apple would start producing its iPhone X in India later this year with help from its biggest manufacturing partner Foxconn.
Some of the iPhone production Apple may move from China would be shifted to India, the Nikkei reported. The news outlet’s sources added that Apple may also consider producing iPhones in Mexico, Indonesia, and Vietnam, among other locations. It’s unclear why Apple would choose those countries, but they all have low-cost, but relatively skilled labor.
“Each has merits and certainly the costs in each country is a primary driver,” Ho told Fortune. “Additionally, it’s beyond lower labor costs but also talent pool, political stability, and incentives given to Apple and its suppliers to set up long-term manufacturing there.”
Still, Ives isn’t sold. He thinks China is too important to Apple’s iPhone for the company to make a major shift in its smartphone production. And like it or not, Apple may have no other choice but to stay in the country.
“Apple has ‘bet the farm’ on its flagship China production factory which produces the vast majority of iPhones globally and represents and the hearts and lungs of the Cupertino ecosystem,” said Ives, referring to the city in which Apple’s headquarters is located.