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Apple’s Back At $3 Trillion. Can It Stay There?
In time of rising interest rates, Apple thrived thanks to its cash. Now the path is clear for a long run at a record high valuation.
When Apple scooted past the $3 trillion mark for the second time in its history on Friday, it did so under some incredible circumstances. The company had seen sales declines for two straight quarters with another anticipated on the way. It posted an earnings miss for the first time in almost seven years in February. And its highly anticipated product — the Vision Pro — isn’t scheduled to hit stores until 2024 and still feels like a prototype.
Yet while it seems like Apple shouldn’t be setting all-time stock market highs, and shouldn't be up 53% this year, the company is much better positioned to remain at the $3 trillion level than when it first reached it, briefly, in early 2022. With a whole lot of cash, a little financial manipulation, and a growing services business, Apple’s thrived in a period of rising interest rates. And now that the worst of a tough economic moment is likely behind it, it’s set to flourish in the rebound ahead.
Of all the factors that played a role in Apple’s surge, cash may be the most important. When interest rates rose from zero to more than 5%, profits suddenly mattered more than promise, and Apple collected plenty of the former. The company built a formidable war chest, amassing more than $100 billion in cash, and deployed it masterfully. In May, it announced a $90 billion share buyback, its second in two years, putting that money in its investors’ hands. Apple’s buybacks have distinguished it from many of its tech peers who’ve struggled with profitability.
Taking Apple’s cash into consideration, portfolio manager Patrick Burton told Bloomberg the company’s valuation made sense. “In my career, I never envisioned a company of this size,” he said. “But then I never envisioned a company capable of generating more than $100 billion in free cash flow in a year.” On Thursday, Citi analyst Atif Malik set a $240 price target for Apple, anticipating another near 30% climb.
To remain at $3 trillion, Apple will need to show sales growth or keep buying back stock, but it’s demonstrated enough strength in its iPhone and services businesses that it appears likely to reverse the trend. Even as Apple’s Mac sales dropped 31% and iPads sales dropped almost 13% in the most recent quarter, its iPhone revenue rose 2%, beating expectations by nearly $2.5 billion. Its services business, meanwhile, made up 22% of its revenue in the recent quarter, larger than every product but iPhone, insulating it a bit from the declines elsewhere. And with the iPhone 15 on the way this fall, a major upgrade cycle awaits.
When Apple first reached $3 trillion in January 2022, it was in a tenuous position. Inflation was rising and the Fed was preparing to start a campaign of significant interest rate hikes that have depressed asset prices. Meanwhile, Apple was in the thick of Covid’s Omicron wave, where supply chain disruptions cost it billions. The company would take some time to figure these issues out, but its supply chain’s improved and the Fed is nearing the end of its rate raises. The near future, at the very least, looks bright.
Today, Apple makes up more than 7% of the S&P 500, making it a safe haven of sorts for investors who’ll keep their money these regardless of quarterly performance. The market’s health now rests, in part, on Apple doing well, creating a self-reinforcing relationship that can defy investing fundamentals. That relationship can go on for a time, but it can’t last forever. And at some point, Apple’s longer term bets like the Vision Pro — and its long-anticipated car project — will have to show results. Until then, it’s a good time to be Tim Cook, and his investors.
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What Else I’m Reading, Etc.
Google moves to block news in Canada [NBC]\
WSJ learns that tech workers do drugs [WSJ]
An AI-discovered and designed drug will begin human trials [FT]
Crypto scams are on the rise, costing us millions [NPR]
AI could make some musicians live forever [Semafor]
More journalists want to become VCs [Axios]
Tech workers are rebranding themselves as “AI experts” as a survival tactic [Vox]
Esther Perel says obsession therapy and therapy-talk could be making us lonelier [Vanity Fair]
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More Apple Discussion on CNBC This Week
I joined CNBC Closing Bell earlier this week to discuss Apple’s impending $3 trillion valuation and AI’s importance to the tech rally.
Number Of The Week
The median pay for a Meta employee. The high salaries at major tech companies can make it difficult for smaller firms and startups to compete in the hiring market, especially in a down economy.
Quote Of The Week
“...spend Sony out of business.”
Emails revealed in the FTC’s case against Microsoft’s show the company’s strategy to take over the gaming industry by outspending their competition.
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This Week on Big Technology Podcast: My Experience On The OceanGate Sub — With David Pogue
David Pogue is a correspondent on CBS Sunday Morning and host of the Unsung Science Podcast. In November 2022, he boarded the OceanGate sub for a voyage just months before it imploded. Pogue joins Big Technology Podcast to share his story. In this interview, he offers a nuanced view of the sub, OceanGate, and its CEO Stockton Rush. We discuss his experience aboard the Titan submersible, his confidence in the safety of the sub at the time, the lessons learned, the merits of risk in the name of exploration, and the media's coverage of the disaster.
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