For Apple, Troubling Data Points From China?

For Apple, Troubling Data Points From China?

The trade war? The new phone launches? A hit to margins? Or maybe all of the above?

According to research from the sell-side, via Credit Suisse, iPhone sales in China have been notably weak.

As reported by CNBC, Credit Suisse said China’s iPhone shipments were down 35.4 percent, measured year over year and for the month of November. The drop clashes with a 20-basis-point increase in the Chinese smartphone market.

The data came from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).

One month’s data may not paint the whole story. Two months’ data might.

As the analysts noted, the decline may be tied to newer iPhone launches (and where, PYMNTS presumes, consumers may be waiting to see what newer devices look like before committing to those purchases).

But, as Credit Suisse pointed out, “the drop in November marks the second straight double-digit decline,” and the softness marks what it termed “an incremental concern.”

Delving a bit into the numbers, the iPhone 11, which has lower price points than other iPhones, proved to be the most popular choice in the month, though it should be noted that the lower price does have a headwind effect on top-line growth. And beyond China, KeyBanc Capital Markets wrote that the iPhone 11 was also a popular model in North America and Western Europe.

The Credit Suisse findings were echoed by other investment bank research. As reported by CNBC, UBS wrote that timing had “likely impacted” sales in the month.

“If we look at the data over the last five months, which normalizes the impact of launch timing, iPhone shipments are down 5 percent versus 3.3 percent overall market decline,” wrote UBS Analyst Timothy Arcuri.

As has been reported, China remains a key market for Apple, as the country and the surrounding region account for as much as 17 percent of its top line. The iPhone itself accounts for a bit more than half of the consolidated top line, noted CNBC.

And against that backdrop, the trade war still has an impact. Though President Donald Trump has tweeted that a deal with China is “getting very close,” a key set of looming tariffs will begin on Dec. 15 on $160 billion worth of Chinese goods. Among those tariffs, if they go through: A 15 percent tariff on the iPhone. Fortune has noted that Apple already pays duties equating to about 50 percent on a range of hardware offerings, spanning iMacs, Apple Watches and HomePod speakers. The company has not raised prices to match the higher costs tied to those duties. Keeping that policy in place would of course (negatively) impact margins.

The trade situation is fluid, and month-to-month iPhone sales seem fluid, too. For Apple, as China goes, so it may for a quarter, or two, or longer … and warning signs will flash.


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