UPDATED: Apple’s market cap skirted below the symbolic $1 trillion mark for much of the day Friday, before recovering enough late in the session to nudge back to right around a trillion.
Investors pushed the stock down on lower-than-expected iPhone unit sales — a metric the tech giant said it’s going to stop reporting — and weaker holiday 2018 revenue guidance.
The Cupertino colossus crested the $1 trillion-valuation mark in early August, the first U.S. company to hit the milestone. Shares were down more than 7% in regular trading Friday morning, and hit an intraday low of $205.43 per share.
As of the close of trading Friday, Apple had a $1.002 million market cap, with the stock ending the day down 6.6% to $207.48 per share. The decline shaved Apple’s market cap by more than $70 billion, but it still holds the biggest market valuation of any company in the world.
Apple posted quarterly earnings Thursday for the September quarter that beat the Street but fell short of expectations on iPhone unit shipments, a key focus for investors, and issued lighter-than-expected guidance for the critical 2018 holiday shopping quarter.
On the earnings call Thursday, Apple CFO Luca Maestri said the company will stop reporting unit sales in the future. “A unit of sale is less relevant to us today than it was in the past,” Maestri said.
That was a “jaw dropper,” Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives wrote in a note Friday. “The Street will find this a tough pill to swallow… given that tracking iPhone units has become habitual to any investor that has closely followed the Apple story for the last decade-plus and is critical to the thesis.”
Apple’s decision to discontinue unit-sales reporting is “fueling fears the company has something to hide,” Jefferies & Co.’s Timothy O’Shea wrote in a note, while adding on the plus side that the company will disclose gross margin for its Services segment for the first time ever, which is “a potential catalyst for the stock.”
But the move “could ultimately be genius,” as “most investors have clearly remained overly fixated on this metric,” wrote UBS’s Timothy Arcuri, who cut his 12-month target on the stock from $250 to $240 per share.
For the quarter ended Sept. 30, Apple sold 46.9 million iPhones, roughly flat with the year-earlier period, while iPhone revenue climbed 29%. Apple forecast $89 billion-$93 billion in revenue for the December quarter (its fiscal Q1 2019), which was a disappointment versus analyst consensus estimate of $92.9 billion.
Wedbush’s Ives remains bullish on Apple, noting that the tech giant boosted average selling price for iPhones to $793 in the quarter and citing the company’s “robust services business” that is poised to top revenue of $50 billion in fiscal 2020.
Ives maintained an “outperform” rating on Apple stock, with a $310-per-share price target. Other analyst firms cut their targets on the stock following the earnings, including Morgan Stanley (from $247 to $226) and BMO Capital Markets (from $219 from $213).
CFRA Research analyst Angelo Zino maintained a “buy” on the shares. Despite the disappointing December 2018 quarter revenue guidance and Apple’s decision to cease unit-sales reporting, he wrote in a note, “we remain optimistic about AAPL’s ability to generate substantial free cash flow via stable iPhone sales, see healthy Services growth ahead and like its ongoing intent to return significant cash to shareholders.”
Last month, Apple introduced a second-generation iPhone X, dubbed the iPhone XS, which began shipping at the end of September. A second model, the iPhone XR, didn’t begin shipping until late last month.
“The Street continues to be laser-focused on the demand trajectory for iPhones into 2019 with the trifecta of next-generation iPhones on the horizon,” wrote Ives, who is projecting iPhone unit shipments of 220 million next year.
Meanwhile, Apple reported iPad unit sales down 6% year-over year, totaling 9.7 million for the quarter (and revenue fell 15%). Mac unit sales were down 2%, totaling 5.3 million, while revenue rose 3%. Apple is banking on boosting the iPad and Mac numbers, with a slate of new products — including new iPad Pro tablets with larger screens — which it announced this week and are scheduled to ship Nov. 7.