Apple Inc. crossed the threshold required to reclaim its status as a trillion-dollar company in Wednesday trading, hitting that level for the first time since early November of last year.
The company’s return to that market-cap milestone comes a day after Apple AAPL, +2.40% introduced its new lineup of iPhones and revealed pricing details for its forthcoming gaming and video subscription offerings. Though there were few product surprises in Apple’s latest announcements, the company’s approach to pricing was unexpected and indicated a change in strategy.
Apple shares were up 2.6% in midday trading Wednesday and need to remain at or above $221.28 to secure trillion-dollar status through the close.
Analysts expect the company’s pricing moves to make its ecosystem more affordable, though they were divided on whether this approach will have a meaningful impact on the company’s financials in the months to come.
“We believe lower [average selling prices] make sense as price elasticity has really kicked in for iPhones this year,” wrote Barclays analyst Tim Long, who rates the stock at an equal weight and upped his target price to $207 from $192.
“While all these actions should help units, we believe gross margins will come under more pressure.”
Long called Apple’s $4.99 monthly price point for the Apple TV+ video service “reasonable” given that the company has a limited library at the outset, especially relative to competitors like Walt Disney Co.’s DIS, -0.24% Disney+ and Netflix Inc. NFLX, +0.19% Apple is giving out a year of the service for free if users buy a new device, which Long expects will help the company amass a sizable base of subscribers at the outset, but at the expense of margins. This comes as Apple is reportedly spending billions of dollars on programming.
Macquarie analyst Benjamin Schachter said that Apple’s offer for a free year of Apple TV+ with the purchase of a device suggests that the company is prioritizing lifetime value of its customer base and seems likely to offer a bundle similar to Amazon.com Inc.’s AMZN, -0.21% Prime down the line. While he thinks the new services could help boost Apple’s ecosystem, he doubts they will be able to move the needle much for Apple.
“We don’t view any of the new subscription products (video, games, news, music) as remotely meaningful to earnings on a stand-alone basis,” he wrote in a note to clients. “Services are not all created equal and investors should keep in mind the margin profile of each offering. In our view, even if video is a wild success for Apple (attracting 50%-100% of Netflix subs), it wouldn’t move long-term EPS more than 0.5%.”
He rates the stock at neutral with a $210 target.
Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi was more upbeat, saying it was an “extremely clever” move for Apple to bundle Apple TV+ with new devices and offer a low price for other subscribers.
“Apple TV+ will now potentially reach 200 million+ Apple customers in its first year of existence,” wrote Sacconaghi, who has a market perform rating and $205 target on the shares.
“Even if only a fraction of those customers convert to paid subscriptions after 12 months - which at only $5 per month increases the odds of conversion - Apple TV+ could accumulate tens of millions of paid subscriptions by the end of 2020 – potential making it larger than Disney+.”
Needham analyst Laura Martin wrote that the announcements should all help Apple reduce its churn rates.
“Our research shows that a second product lowers churn by 25% and a third product lowers it by an additional 10%,” Martin said in a research note. “We love Apple’s focus on Watch and iPad as add-on products which lower churn. Arcade and AppleTV+ adoption add disincentives to churn. If the Arcade and Apple+ services collectively keep users one year extra, we estimate this adds $5 billion to $20 billion to Apple’s revenue, depending on purchases of iPhones, iPads, Watches & Macs during that extra year.”
She argued that the $4.99 monthly cost of Apple TV+ starts a price war with Netflix and others: “Apple’s balance sheet won’t lose this war, but Netflix might.” She has a strong buy rating on the stock and boosted her price target to $250 from $225.
But Bank of America’s Nat Schindler doesn’t think Netflix investors should be sweating the Apple TV+ arrival. “Apple TV+’s 9 titles available at launch is dwarfed by what we counted as over 400 original series titles available on Netflix today, many with multiple seasons (does not count movies),” he wrote. “We see Apple TV+ as likely to be hit-driven in the near term, with subscribers turning it on and off based on whether a series gains mainstream appeal.”
Schindler has a buy rating and $450 price objective on Netflix’s stock, while his colleague Wamsi Mohan has a buy rating on Apple shares and a new price objective of $250, up from $240 prior to the event.
Apple shares have climbed 40% so far this year, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +0.43%, of which Apple is a component, has risen 16%.