This blog was amended on January 19, 2019. See the end of the blog for details.
Yesterday, Apple revised its sales outlook for the 4th quarter (fiscal 1st quarter), claiming revenue will drop in at $84 billion, down from its previous estimate of $89-$93 billion. That caused a fright among investors, and Dow futures are down over 300 points as I write this blog (from Rome, Italy). Put into context, that would represent a drop in sales of 5% year over year. Investors aren't accustomed to weakness in the 1st company to attain trillion dollar value. (The current market value of Apple is $741.73 billion. Share price has been sliding since Oct. 2, 2018.)
Tim Cook said that the reason sales will be down by $5-9 billion is basically disappointing iPhone sales in China. He blamed the economic slowdown in China for lower sales, stating on CNBC that “It’s clear that the economy began to slow [in China] during the 2nd half… Trade tensions put additional pressure on their economy.” Traffic in Chinese Apple stores and their channel stores is down as well.
While Tim Cook is right about a slowdown in China’s economic growth (to 6.1% predicted in 2019 by Fitch Ratings), that’s not the real reason that Apple sales are down in the world’s largest economy (China). According to IDC, the slowdown in smart phone sales has been going on since the 4th quarter of 2017. The reasons? “Market saturation, increased smartphone penetration rates, and climbing Average Selling Prices,” according to Anthony Scarsella, the research manager with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Smart Phone Tracker. The slow down is concentrated in Samsung and Apple, the chief contributors to the pricing problem. The lower-cost Chinese manufacturers Huawei and Xiaomi saw outstanding sales growth year over year.
In fact, the 2nd quarter of 2018 welcomed a new leader to the Top 2 in global Smart Phone sales, knocking Apple down to #3. Samsung and Apple have dominated the #1 and #2 position in smart phone sales for a decade. However, Huawei outsold Apple to become the #2 smart phone seller worldwide, with sales of 54.2 million units and 15.8% market share in the 2nd quarter (source: IDC). There are reports that Huawei’s smart phone sales topped 200 million units in 2018. (The final 2018 report from IDC should be available at the end of January.) Here are the most recent numbers from Q3 2018.
So, why is Huawei more important than ASP, market saturation and China’s slowing economic growth? Cook is not publicly acknowledging the elephant in the room, although he is smart enough to consider this privately. Huawei is beating Apple in global smart phone sales. The arrest of the Huawei CFO and vice chairwoman Meng Wanzhou is viewed in a negative light – not just by China. Chinese media, other Asian media and many Weibo updates, called the arrest “kidnapping,” referring to the U.S. as a rogue nation. Imagine if Tim Cook were in jail awaiting extradition to China for aiding Tibet in some way.
Trade wars don’t just slow economic growth. (The tariffs have actually resulted in a much larger trade deficit with China.) They also tarnish brands. While many Chinese consumers might love their Apple iPhones enough to stay loyal, that becomes increasingly problematic as the U.S. trade policy and the arrest of Huawei’s CFO make headlines in the country. When citizens have to choose between patriotism and a product, it is likely to be the product that suffers.
20% of Apple’s sales come from China, with over 1/3 from Asia Pacific.
Tim Cook has his work cut out for him. What can he do to compete with the harsh headlines of a U.S./China trade war and the arrest of a major Chinese competitor’s heir apparent? He must find a way to keep Apple beloved and separate from the actions of the current Administration, while also innovating and reconsidering his aggressive pricing. Will he cut a deal with an Asian carrier, to make his smart phone products more affordable (as he did with AT&T when iPhone first launched). Watch for those headlines to understand how Apple will fare in 2019, which may not be featured as predominantly, or covered as widely, as yesterday’s earnings miss was.
*The original blog stated in error that sales growth year over year would be positive.
What Should You Do to Protect Yourself From More Wall Street Weakness?
A diversified, hot plan that is annually rebalanced and underweights the over-leveraged companies and municipalities is your best defense against a market downturn. Sadly, most people are not diversified, are heavily invested in companies that are drowning in debt, and are still using Buy and Hope, instead of Annual Rebalancing and Modern Portfolio Theory. (Many broker-salesmen say they are using MPT; few are, however.) That’s why your first and best step is to Know What You Own. If you’re interested in an unbiased 2nd opinion, which includes a report of what you own, outlining areas of strength and weakness in your current plan, email info@NataliePace.com.
Happy New Year! Making sure that your financial house is secure enough to withstand the economic storms that are raging will help your 2019 to be more enjoyable.
You can learn the ABCs of Money that we all should have received in high school at one of my Investor Educational Retreats. Only 2 seats remain available at the Valentine’s Retreat in Santa Monica. Receive a discount on your private coaching package (and 2nd opinion), when you register for a retreat.
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Natalie Pace is the co-creator of the Earth Gratitude Project and the author of The Gratitude Game, The ABCs of Money and Put Your Money Where Your Heart Is. She blogs on Huffington Post and Medium, and is a frequent guest contributor to national news shows and magazines. She has been ranked the No. 1 stock picker, above over 830 A-list pundits, by an independent tracking agency, and has been saving homes and nest eggs since 1999.