Apple gets a two-pronged roasting and the stock stumbles

Apple (AAPL) is getting hit from two directions in the closing days of 2017. On the negative news Apple fell 2.5% yesterday, December 26. The shares rebounded very slightly–0.02%–today.

The first bad news came yesterday as analysts cut their estimates for sales of the iPhone X in the first quarter of 2018. (Which is actually the second quarter of Apple’s fiscal year.) Apple is reported to have cut its own forecasts for handset sales in the last quarter of 2017 (the first quarter of fiscal 2018) to 30 million units from 50 million, according to Taiwan’s Economic Daily News. For the upcoming quarter analysts such as those at JL Warren Capital, have projected a drop to 25 million units.

The problem, according to analysts and market observers may be that the new features in the iPhone X haven’t pushed enough customers to reach into their pockets to pay the $999 price for the phone. The early data on the December quarter shows a “significant” percentage of Apple customers opting for cheaper iPhone models.

The second wave of bad news has come from analysts questioning whether the tax bill recently passed by Congress will induce Apple to repatriate as much cash as expected from the $250 billion the company has stockpiled overseas. Markets have been assuming that Apple will use that repatriated cash to increase its program of stock buybacks and raise its dividend. The final version of the tax bill offers companies a special one-time tax rate of 15.5% (or 8% if the cash is invested in plant and equipment) on cash returned from overseas. Analysts have begun to question whether that is a good enough deal to entice Apple to bring back a significant amount of cash. Apple invests some of its overseas cash to hedge against currency risk. Another portion of its cash hoard is invested to offset the interest the company pays on money it has raised to fund stock buybacks and dividends. Those investments have returned enough to cover Apple’s $1.8 billion in interest expenses in fiscal 2017 and to produce a profit above those expenses of $514 million.

Analysts have asked in recent days whether since Apple can sell short-term debt at 0.875% and at 4.25% for 30-year debt, it makes sense for Apple to pay 15.5% (or 8%) to repatriate its overseas cash.

Which wouldn’t be a question capable of depressing Apple stock except that so many investors and traders seem to have decided that all of Apple’s $250 billion is set to come home in short order and then to almost immediately be used to buy back shares and raise the dividend.

Apple reports its December quarter earnings on January 30. Apple is a member of my long-term 50 Stocks Portfolio.