Apple Analysts Grow Reluctantly More Bullish Ahead of Earnings

(Bloomberg) -- Apple Inc. analysts have turned modestly more positive ahead of the company’s earnings next week, but they don’t seem too happy about it.

At least four firms have raised their price targets on the stock over the past two days, but in each case, the call was tempered with caution, particularly over iPhone sales.

Apple Analysts Grow Reluctantly More Bullish Ahead of Earnings

Wolfe Research lifted its target by $10 to $185 on Thursday but said it “wouldn’t chase” the shares, which it described as overbought. “The iPhone faces headwinds, China relations still could blow up, we don’t see major new hardware in the next 12 months, and the stock’s discount to the market has closed,” analyst Steven Milunovich wrote in a note to clients.

This was echoed by UBS, which raised its target by $20 to $235 while cautioning that Apple’s iPhone mix “remains challenging.” The upcoming results, however, “should be fine.”

These followed similarly tepid comments on Wednesday from Bernstein and Goldman Sachs, the latter of which lifted what had been one of the lowest price targets on Wall Street.

Goldman’s Rod Hall said his target hike was due to “less short term downside as well as a change in our valuation methodology.” At the same time, he warned that “European consumer sentiment implies the possibility for worse demand there” and there’s “increasing potential” for Apple to miss expectations for units and average selling price toward the end of the year.

Bernstein said Apple’s second-quarter numbers “appear safe” although “next year’s iPhone cycle appears uninspiring, and the stock’s key question -- the structural lengthening of iPhone replacement cycles -- remains unresolved.”

Of the four price target increases, only UBS’s implies upside from current levels, while the overall average target of $201 is about 3 percent below the current stock price. Apple is the only one of the so-called FAANG stocks where the average price target is below where the shares are trading.

Apple fell 0.4 percent on Thursday. The stock has risen 45 percent off a January low and recently closed at its highest level since November. The shares are just 3 percent away from regaining a market capitalization of $1 trillion, although Microsoft Corp. beat it to that milestone Thursday as it retook the mantle as largest U.S. stock.

Apple’s results will be released after the market closes on Tuesday. Analysts expect adjusted earnings to fall about 13 percent on a year-over-year basis while revenue declines 5.9 percent -- the biggest such drop since 2016.

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