At least one stock analyst is getting off the Apple rocket and applying the brakes as he cuts his rating to a “hold” status.
While it seems every other analyst out there is upping their projections on the value of Apple’s stock, with some even going straight to the $1,000 valuation, at least one is trying to interject some caution into the discussions. According to Barron’s, BTIG Research’s Walter Piecyk cut his rating to a “hold” this morning on fears that carriers are going to change their upgrade policies. Piecyk said in his note:
Operators, unwilling to stall the pace of ARPU growth, offered generous upgrade policies including some that enabled a fully subsidized phone upgrade only one year in to a two year contract. We expect those policies to change as the faster upgrade rate of smartphones compared to legacy feature phones has been a costly surprise to post-paid and pre-paid operators, alike.The number of iPhones sold is likely to decline in many markets in Apple’s Fiscal Q2. This should not be a surprise to investors given the seasonality that exists and a consensus estimate which reflects this decline. The commentary by wireless operators is likely to be decidedly more firm in how they plan to continue to hold back the rising phone upgrade rates that are hurting their margins. Even weak operators like Sprint, which has a large contractual commitment with Apple, will likely experience a decline in iPhone sales based in part on changes to its upgrade policies last year. They will not be alone as we expect a similar trend at Verizon, Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, America Movil and Telefonica, to name a few. In the United States, we expect iPhone sales to decline 4 million sequentially to 9 million with the largest impact coming from AT&T, Apple’s largest customer.
We have already seen carriers changing up their policies, so this isn’t too surprising of a theory when you think about it. Apple has shown explosive growth quarter after quarter, but so much of that success depends on the support of third-party companies. It isn’t difficult to imagine that at some point that will come back to bite the popular company. Of course, the thing to remember is that this isn’t going to impact just Apple, but possibly all smartphone manufacturers. We’ll just have to wait and see what the carriers decide in the remainder of this year.