Downbeat iPhone X sales projections hobble Apple shares

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USA TODAY

Apple heads into the new year with some unusually downbeat news: its new iPhone X isn’t proving to be quite the sales darling that some of its previous smartphones have been.

Shares of Cupertino tech giant were down 3% in early trading Tuesday after several market analysts forecast lower than expected demand for the latest iPhone, with its edge-to-edge screen, face-recognition software and lofty price.

Apple could cut its sales forecast for the first quarter of 2018 to 30 million units, down from an initial target of 50 million, according to a report in Taiwan’s Economic Daily News cited by Reuters.

Similar reports cited the high price of the iPhone X, released last month and featuring a base price of $999, as a reason for lower demand and lower shipments.

A number of other Apple-watchers echoed that downbeat forecast.

In the current October-December 2017 quarter, shipments were estimated to be down to 25 million from an expected 30 million, said JL Warren Capital in a report released Friday cited by Bloomberg. The New York-based equity firm, which focuses on Chinese companies, based its estimated on lower orders placed at Apple’s suppliers.

More: Want the iPhone X? It doesn’t have to cost you $1,000

Declining demand could carry over into the first quarter of 2018 after holiday buying slows, says Beijing-based Sinolink Securities Co. Bloomberg cited its estimate, out Monday, that shipments of Apple’s iPhone X during the first quarter of 2018 could be as low as 35 million, “or 10 million less than previously expected.”

This clamor a few weeks after a new iPhone model hits isn’t new. “Apple’s famously noisy supply chain typically begins squawking around the end of December and beginning of January,” said Nomura Instinet equity research analyst Jeffrey Kvaal in a note to investors Dec. 19. He downgraded Apple shares from a Buy rating to Neutral.

Shares of Apple fell after the release of iPhone 5 and iPhone 6, he noted. However, shares “obviously recovered,” Kvaal said. 

Apple (AAPL) fell to $169.72 in early trading Tuesday, down 3%. For the year, Apple shares are up 45%.

Apple’s shipment delays of iPhone X models had decreased last week to one day in the U.S., Kvaal says, which suggests “limited upside” to sales expectations.

Apple has not released shipment forecasts and declined comment on the forecasts.

Could China sales flip the script?

Not all analysts agreed that 2018 won’t prove successful for Apple. The iPhone X adoption rate in China is ahead of iPhone 8 and 8 plus, noted Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty who maintained a $200 price target on Apple stock in a note Dec. 21. “We believe there remains significant pent-up demand from the base of two-plus-year-old iPhone owners” for iPhone X, she said.

Rosenblatt Securities said the iPhone X has had stable sales in North America and has outsold the combined 8 and 8 Plus, according to StreetInsider.com. Rosenblatt analyst Jun Zhang said the Taiwanese media reports could actually be referring to production cuts in iPhone 8 and 8 Plus models.

Still, some companies that supply components and technology for Apple’s iPhone X saw their stocks take a hit, too.

Shares of Finisar (FNSR), the Texas-based facial ID tech company Apple recently invested $390 million in, were down 2.6% to $20.84. And Cirrus Logic (CRUS), which supplies audio technology, fell 2.3% to $51.22. Also down: wireless network chipmaker Skyworks Solutions (SWKS) fell 2.8% to $94.30.

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Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.

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