Stock Apple
Analysts have grown cautious. Over the past three months, they’ve cut their estimates for Apple’s fiscal third-quarter earnings by 7.8 per cent. Image Credit: AP

Apple Inc.’s run as a $3 trillion stock proved fleeting. Now its grip on a $2 trillion market value is looking wobbly, too.

After briefly surpassing $3 trillion in January, the iPhone maker has lost more than $800 billion in capitalisation as tech stocks plunged. With concern growing that the Federal Reserve’s interest-rate increases could tip the US into recession, the $2 trillion milestone is looking precarious. Apple closed Tuesday at $2.15 trillion.

“In the same way that Apple benefited from the Fed-fueled bull market, it will suffer as the low interest rate and quantitative easing subsidies fade,” said David Trainer, CEO at investment research firm New Constructs.

Economists predict the Fed will raise interest rates on Wednesday by at least half a percentage point, with some predicting a 0.75-point increase in the wake of Friday’s stronger-than-expected inflation data. Further increases are expected this year. All of that could deepen the selloff in tech stocks, which are particularly vulnerable to higher interest rates as they weigh on the current valuation of companies’ future profits.

The FAANG cohort - Facebook owner Meta Platforms Inc., Apple, Inc., Netflix Inc. and Google parent Alphabet Inc. - were poster children of the two-year bull market, rallying at breakneck speed to scale historic valuations. That quickly evaporated this year with the group losing a combined $2.6 trillion in market value as investors fled from growth names for safer assets. Amazon is also close to falling below $1 trillion.

Analysts have grown cautious, too. Over the past three months, they’ve cut their estimates for Apple’s fiscal third-quarter earnings by 7.8 per cent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Revenue projections are down about 4.2 per cent over the same period. The stock also has the lowest share of analyst buy ratings in more than a year.

KeyBanc Capital Markets sees signs of softer US demand, citing credit card data spending. Others have raised concerns about the pace of revenue growth at the company’s App Store, with Morgan Stanley adding that this poses risks to its estimates for Apple’s Services business. According to data compiled by Bloomberg, Apple derived 18.7 per cent of its fiscal 2021 revenue and more than 30 per cent of gross profit from services.

Apple’s stock woes have intensified this year with a 25 per cent slump and Saudi Aramco snatching its title as the world’s most valuable company. Setting aside the headwinds that have broadly pressured tech stocks - rising interest rates, slowing economic growth and soaring inflation - the tech giant is also facing supply constraints related to Covid restrictions in China. In April, it warned that it could take a $4 billion to $8 billion hit to revenues for the current quarter.

History shows that it can take years for technology stocks to climb back to the highs set in raging bull markets, assuming they ever do. Cisco Systems Inc., a star of the late 1990s tech frenzy, is still 46 per cent below its all-time peak of March 2000.

“I would say that if an investor under-owns these names, then this is an opportunity to add to positions,” said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott, which has about $130 billion in assets. “However, there are always names that lead in some eras, but then it takes years for them to them to regain their record levels. Just because they will continue to grow, that doesn’t mean these names will regain their former leadership.”

The stock market rout has pushed the Nasdaq 100 Index’s valuation down to 19 times earnings, the lowest level since the pandemic-induced selloffs of March 2020. The tech-heavy index’s price-earnings ratio had scaled a multiyear high of 31 times in September 2020 as stock markets rallied amid low interest rates and booming demand for tech gear because of pandemic lockdowns.