People are seriously discussing whether iPhone sales have gone into decline for the first time ever
On Monday, Morgan Stanley predicted a 6% drop in iPhone shipments in Apple's 2016 fiscal year, which began in October.
On Tuesday, two more Wall Street analysts raised their concerns that iPhone sales would decline in coming quarters, citing lower guidance from Dialog Semiconductor, the power-management chip supplier of iPhones and iPads.
It'll be a big deal if these predictions turn out true. Apple generates most of its revenue from iPhones, and a dent in its sales could be a huge blow to its growth - and potentially sour investor sentiment and its stock price.
Dialog Semiconductor brought down its fourth-quarter revenue guidance from the range of $430 million to $460 million to the $390 million to $400 million range on Tuesday, largely because of weaker demand in its mobile business.
Apple accounts for more than 90% of Dialog Semiconductor's mobile revenue.
"The size of the Dialog miss leaves us to believe it is iPhone (vs. iPad) related, and based on the dollar content that Dialog would typically see, we believe investors could estimate as much as a 12 million unit shortfall," market-research firm Stifel wrote in a note on Tuesday.
Stifel noted that historically there's been a high correlation between Dialog's revenue and iPhone shipment volume. For this quarter, the research firm is lowering its iPhone shipment level forecast from its previous 74.7 million estimate to the 68 million to 70 million range.
Credit Suisse also published a note that gave gloomy forecasts for iPhones in the upcoming quarters. It said Dialog's lowered guidance suggests iPhone shipments in the March quarter to be around 50 million, not the 55 million units it had previously projected.
"We do see a subdued iPhone cycle for the next few quarters," it said. "We note that looking at the Dialog announcement, along with recent Asian supply chain commentary, suggests that March quarter shipments could potentially be lower at 50mn, suggesting continued downside," it said.
The negative forecasts come just a day after Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty dropped a note predicting a big decline in iPhone sales in 2016. She wrote that iPhone sales will drop nearly 6% to 218 million units this fiscal year, ending in September 2016, while it would drop about 2.9% to 224 million units for the full calendar year. Those are significantly lower figures than Huberty's previous estimates of 247 million for FY 2016 and 252 million for CY 2016.
Huberty pointed to higher price points in overseas markets and a maturing smartphone market in developed countries for her downside prediction.
Apple stock has declined from about $132 per share in May to $113 now, in part on reduced sales expectations. Its share price largely remains flat as of Tuesday afternoon.
Not every analyst is on board with this. Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster, one of the most prominent Apple analysts in the world, published a note on Tuesday arguing that things are fine because what really matters to Apple is growth during the iPhone 7 cycle, which is expected to come in the second half of next year.
Tim Cook has previously addressed questions regarding a potential slowdown in its growth during its last earnings call. He cited high conversion rates from Android users to the iPhone and strong potential in emerging markets, as well as China, as reasons for why he's not concerned about it.
"We believe that iPhone will grow in Q1 and we base that on what we are seeing from a switcher point of view, we recorded the highest rate on record for Android switches last quarter at 30%," Cook said during the call.
Our performance in emerging markets, although it's quite good and our revenue was good, our market share is low and the LTE penetration in these markets is quite low ... Also, if I zoom out and look at China, as I have said before, and just to make the point once again, is we see an enormous change in China over the next several years. The latest study I have seen from McKinsey indicates if you look back five years, China's middle class had about 50 million people in it. If you look ahead five years, it will have 10 times that number in it. And so - and I feel like we are reasonably well-positioned in China - I'm sure we can do better, but I think we are doing fairly well there.
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