Normally, the Apple Pay ecosystem is a buzzing hotbed of data in any given week, and the challenge is to pick between a buffet of options as to what the most interesting and important issues are.
The week before earnings, the situation is a little different, and things are quiet … too quiet. While there hasn’t been a total news blackout, mostly, the dominant mode for Apple watchers is watch and wait.
And speculate, of course.
With less than a week to go until the next missive from Cupertino and a glimpse at some of those rather closely guarded figures in the offing, much of the third week of Jan. 2016 has been spent wondering about what comes next from the world’s biggest firm.
Including wonders about just how much longer it will hold on to that distinction…
Google Gaining Ground
Apple has been the world’s most valuable company by market cap since 2013, when it managed to unseat ExxonMobil for the title. And though a year ago it was widely forecasted that Apple could be the world’s first trillion-dollar enterprise, these days, it is looking increasingly possible that it is about to hand off its crown to Alphabet.
As of the writing of this article, Apple’s market cap was at about $536 billion, while Alphabet was clocking in at $485 billion —closing the gap.
With Apple earnings less than a week out and Alphabet set to report a week from yesterday (Jan. 21), the question is whether Alphabet will get around Apple.
Some are saying it isn’t very likely, since Apple is reporting holiday quarter results, which tend to add to the firm’s bottom line. Moreover, the stock has been gaining recent buzz, and analysts are increasingly concerned that it is underpriced. Unless Apple has a big miss, most don’t think it likely that it will lose enough market cap to go into second place to Alphabet.
Alphabet could also beat Wall Street’s expectations and send its stock price sky-high. Quartz notes that analysts are already expecting big things of Google, and the result would have to be pretty dramatic to add $50 billion in value to the firm’s market cap quickly.
Dramatic perhaps but, notably, not unheard of. After all, Alphabet managed to add $60 billion to its market cap in a single day this summer after its earnings report overshot expectations. Even if Apple meets or mildly exceeds Wall Street expectations but doesn’t see its stock grow much, Quartz and other media outlets report that Alphabet is very possibly one “gangbusters” earnings report away from being the most valuable company on Earth by market cap.
Is India Apple’s New China?
Much of the concern about Apple — and the recent erosion in stock price — is based on Apple’s level of exposure to the Chinese economy, given that the future of the Chinese economy has started 2016 looking mighty unstable.
On the consumer end, there is the concern that a slowing Chinese economy will net fewer consumers in China looking to pay Apple prices for iPhones, iPads and smartwatches. On the back end, in China, Apple accepts payments in yuan (and, as a matter of policy, does not reprice goods in line with currency fluctuations) but makes them in dollars (to Foxconn and its other local suppliers).
Which means that when Apple announced it was making a bigger concerted push into India — one of the world’s up-and-coming economies and a bastion of commerce and eCommerce enthusiasm — it is unsurprising that the company so quickly got everyone’s attention.
On Wednesday (Jan. 20), Apple announced it had sought governmental permission in India to both operate retail stores and sell products online. Currently, Apple products in India are sold through local distribution companies.
Apple has less than 2 percent of the emerging Indian smartphone market but made $1 billion in revenue in India last year. And smartphones are becoming big business in the subcontinent, with some projections calling for 174 million to be sold this year.
The challenge for Apple now is to tap into India’s growing and aspirational middle class — a shift of its current market position, which currently has it viewed mainly as an object for the the very wealthy. At this time, just a little over a third of the population in India has a smartphone at all, meaning growth is certainly possible, though Indian consumers tend to prefer their smartphones in the $100–$135 range — far less than what Apple sells for.
“Buying an iPhone is so expensive,” said Sakshi Maurya, a 20-year-old university student in New Delhi. She said she doesn’t understand why an iPhone is five times as expensive as some locally available Android phones. “It’s a luxurious thing.”
In an attempt to persuade consumers, like Maurya, Apple is trying to convince Indian consumers that its products are worth the money, with enhanced marketing (billboards in the nation’s largest cities), easier financing and better prices.
Apple has declined to comment on its India plans directly, though, in the past, CEO Tim Cook has expressed interest in expanding the market.
Whether India will get a shoutout during Apple’s earnings call next week remains to be seen, though, generally, international news that comes up in the call has a tendency of being released right about a week ahead of time. So, the mention seems likely.
However, the real questions everyone will be asking for the next few days are: Did Apple beat expectations? Did it push up the stock price? And will it be enough to hold back Alphabet, a firm that analysts are a lot less skittish about these days?
Tune in next week — same bat time, same bat channel — for even more analysis.