There's a simple reason people aren't buying iPhones like they used to

Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesVisitors inspect the new iPhone XR during an Apple special event at the Steve Jobs Theatre on September 12, 2018 in Cupertino, California. Apple released three new versions of the iPhone and an update Apple Watch.
  • Apple shares fell more than 4% Tuesday amid growing concerns around a slowing iPhone cycle.
  • At least four of the tech giant’s suppliers have cut their own guidance due in part to weakness in the smartphone market.
  • The slowdown in the smartphone market is due largely to rising prices and consumers holding onto their models for longer periods of time relative to previous cycles, one bullish analyst said.
  • Watch Apple trade live here.

Apple shares have taken a beating of late, and a growing roster of Wall Street analysts say a slowdown in its iPhone cycle is to blame.

But the reason for the slowdown may be more straightforward than investors think, according to some analysts.

iPhone owners are holding onto models for longer periods as their quality improves and the average selling price rises, leading to a slowdown in the product’s replacement cycle, said Angelo Zino, senior equity analyst at CFRA.

“[Apple] continues to try to push toward these higher-price devices, and we think that is continuing to cause a slowdown in the replacement cycle,” Zino said on Tuesday, adding he doesn’t see that as a broader warning for the state of the US consumer.

He told Business Insider that he expects the current iPhone cycle to trend down for the first time since 2007. That year, on the heels of the global financial crisis and due to high comparable numbers, revenue fell 12% and units sold slid 8%.

Apple said in its quarterly earnings report last month that it would no longer disclose the number of units sold for products including the iPhone, an announcement that weighed on the stock during the November earnings call.

Still, Zino remains a bull, even as some of his peers have turned bearish on Apple. He maintains a “buy” rating with a price target of $US255, implying a 45% rise from current levels, and said he would change his tune on Apple if he saw a meaningful reduction in the company’s active user base.

“The most ominous sign, and the most tell-tale sign that the Apple bull story could decline, is the decline of its installed base at some point,” Zino said in a phone interview, adding he remains bullish on the company’s free cash flow.

Others echo a similar sentiment. The iPhone “ownership period is lengthening: users are not upgrading as frequently as they used to, possibly a combination of high retail prices but also because a significant step-up in technology upgrades means that users are more likely to want to wait for the next wave of upgrades,” HSBC analysts led by Erwan Rambourg wrote in a sweeping Apple report on Tuesday.

The firm downgraded the stock to a “hold” rating, from “buy,” and lowered its price target to $US200 from $US205. HSBC followed other Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs, which cut its price target on the stock three times in November.

Some of Apple’s suppliers, too, have cut their guidance in recent months because of falling iPhone demand. On Tuesday, the Texas-based semiconductor manufacturer Cirrus Logic slashed its revenue guidance for its fiscal third quarter of 2019 due to a weakening smartphone market. Last month, the Austrian semiconductor manufacturer AMS cut its revenue forecast, suggesting slowing iPhone demand, days after chipmaker Lumentum slashed its own revenue and profit expectations.

Apple shares were down 22% in three months, but up 3.9% this year.
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