The announcement from Jefferies Analyst Peter Misek that he is no longer a bear but a bull, raising his target price for Apple (AAPL) from $425 to $600, is a sign that the train has left the station and it's time for the last analyst to jump on board. Regardless of the arguments and the hedging that is inserted in the analyst reports, such as the prospect of a future iPhone 6 with a 4.8" screen that is more likely to impact 2015 earnings and not 2014, one must consider the sea change in attitudes. Perhaps it is the 9MU of iPhones sold during the first weekend, or the continued allocation due to the greatly increased sales channel of carriers and retailers that occurred despite the lack of a $300 mass market phone. One thing seems to be certain -- Apple has confused the analysts with its new strategy and a reset is now taking place in their expectations.
It makes sense to review the history of analyst calls to put things into proper perspective. It was less than 4 weeks ago that Misek lowered Apple's price target to $425 from $450 based on expected weaker earnings in Apple's fiscal Q4. The reason was "due to the iPhone 5C being priced like Apple's prior generation handset rather than at a new level and our checks indicate 5S supply constraints due to poor yields on the fingerprint sensor." At that time Misek expected that Apple earnings for 2014 would drop from $38.78 to $37.95 while the Street is expecting $42.66. Misek believed that the 5C would not be a high volume seller, which led him to cut his 2014 iPhone sales forecast from 162 to 147 million.
To raise the price target from $425 to $600 implies a growth in revenue and earnings and perhaps an expectation of increased buybacks. Misek claimed that on his recent trip to Asia, he saw a "substantial shift in attitudes towards Apple and that they have become more lenient on price." This is not entirely clear, as one would not think that changes in attitude would be a reason to upgrade a stock. More likely, he found that Apple was getting lower costs on components than what was previously expected. Also a possibility is that, through the supply checks, he got a better idea of what the build plan was for the iPhone 5C and 5S to meet the expected demand for the anticipated launch of China Mobile (CHL) in November.
As mentioned in my two previous articles (here and here), Apple made two critical decisions that have bolstered its growth prospects for the coming year and cast aside the need for a $300 low margin, mass market phone. The first was to shift the technology platform to the higher unoccupied ground that is the 64-bit A7 processor and deny Android a significant foundation. The second was to expand the cellular carrier network in order to create a vast level playing field that meant retail and carriers would discount iPhones as much as $199, as in the case of Japan's DoCoMo (DCM) and thus lower the cost of entry to new customers while also competing on data plan costs. Until analysts come up to speed on these new realities, their reports will lag the action in the marketplace.