The Twitter feed of Apple CEO Tim Cook, in Washington, DC, the US, March 7 2019. Picture: AFP
The Twitter feed of Apple CEO Tim Cook, in Washington, DC, the US, March 7 2019. Picture: AFP

New York — Apple continues to struggle with iPhone demand, with trends going “from bad to worse”, according to Longbow Research.

“Without iPhone demand acceleration on the horizon, we currently do not see any catalysts near term to drive significant EPS (earnings per share) upside,” wrote analyst Shawn Harrison. He affirmed his neutral rating on the stock and said the lack of a rebound in iPhone sales creates risk and shifts more focus to Apple’s March 25 event, where the company is expected to introduce a video programming service and premium magazine subscription plan.

Shares of Apple gained as much as 1% in early trading Tuesday, after rising 3.5% on Monday, their biggest increase since January. While the stock has rebounded 27% from a January low, Apple remains more than 20% below record levels reached in October.

Much of the stock’s weakness over the past few months has been related to weakening demand prospects for the iPhone, particularly in China, an increasingly important market. According to data compiled by Bloomberg, almost 20% of Apple’s fiscal 2018 revenue was derived from China, and the iPhone accounted for 62% of revenue.

“Multiple iPhone price cuts did not stop China iPhone search trends from weakening further while February supplier sales were abysmal, decelerating on a year over year basis versus January,” Harrison wrote in a research note on Tuesday. Of 42 Apple suppliers, he wrote, 37 of them “reported worse than seasonal sales” in February.

Harrison added that there was “weaker interest year over year” for iPhones, citing search data for both Google and China’s Baidu. In February, Baidu iPhone searches were down 47% from the prior year, per his data.

Analysts are split on Apple’s outlook with 22 recommending buying shares and another 22 recommending holding the stock. Just one firm has a sell rating. The average price target is $178, or slightly below where the stock closed on Monday. On Monday, Bank of America Merrill Lynch upgraded the Dow Jones Industrial Average component to buy, forecasting “stability of supply chain order cuts” and a “large reversal of inventory overhang in iPhones.”

Apple’s second-quarter results will be released on or about April 30. Analysts expect the company to report adjusted earnings of $2.38 a share on revenue of $57.54bn. These estimates indicate a drop of nearly 13% in profitability and sales falling 5.9% compared to the prior-year period.