December 18, 2012
If initial Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone 5 sales are any measure, the vendor appears to be making headway in the China market. Apple disclosed that it sold more than 2 million iPhone 5 smartphones since the unit’s launch on Dec. 14, exceeding its prior product kickoff performances in China. Considering the fact that the iPhone 5 isn’t offered on China Mobile, China’s largest carrier, the weekend sales figures are a bit eye-opening.
“Customer response to iPhone 5 in China has been incredible, setting a new record with the best first weekend sales ever in China,” said Tim Cook, Apple chief executive, in a statement. “China is a very important market for us and customers there cannot wait to get their hands on Apple products.”
Inasmuch as China is a priority growth market for Apple (the vendor posted nearly $24 billion in sales there in fiscal 2012, more than doubling the prior year’s totals), and some early reports pointed to expectations of sliding demand, the company has to be pleasantly surprised by the initial iPhone 5 sales crush. Soon after Apple rolled out the iPhone 5 in September, the company claimed sales of more than 4 million units but it has not provided figures since. The iPad Mini launched in China in earlier this month.
To help move the sales needle upward, Apple reportedly translated developer docs into Chinese, trying to attract more Chinese developers to make native language apps.
Early China iPhone 5 sales figure returns come amid two big banks cutting their Apple price targets for 2013–not precipitous forecasts of downgrades in value but reductions nonetheless–and it won’t be surprising to see other investment analyst bears fall in line behind them. Why are some Apple watchers turning their noses up a bit at the vendor’s 2013 outlook?
Early last week, Jefferies analyst Peter Misek cut his price target for Apple stock to $800 from $900, a bearish note that was followed by well-known UBS analyst Steven Milunovich, the Switzerland bank’s managing director of U.S. Research, dropping his Apple price target to $700 from $780 and also lowering his earnings estimates by 10 percent–5 percent lower than the consensus–for the company’s last nine months of 2013.
Milunovich, who covers IT hardware for UBS, is a 20-year veteran and member of the Institutional Investor Hall of Fame for sell-side researchers, isn’t the fire sale-type but his reputation does precede him. His Apple ratchet points include supply chain sources telling him iPhone manufacturing will slow for the March quarter next year; Chinese sources saying iPhone 5 sales won’t hold up to those of iPhone 4S in that geography; an expected slowdown in iPad tablet sales owing to the growing popularity of the iPad Mini; and a resetting of growth estimates based on a dawdling economy in Europe and ramped up competition from its uber rival Samsung.
Interestingly enough, Milunovich suggested that should China Mobile begin to sell the iPhone 5, Apple’s overall 2013 earnings outlook could spike northward.
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