I've been watching Apple for years. I can't count the number of times someone has predicted its demise, only to see the company's riches grow. Now, the coronavirus outbreak is prompting those predictions yet again. I'm not so sure even this moment can hurt the company longterm.
Last week, Goldman Sachs analyst Rod Hall changed his Apple stock rating to "sell" because he expects declining iPhone business amid the coronavirus crisis. Hall added that Apple's Services business, which includes Apple Music, iCloud, Apple TV+, and other businesses, will also decline.
The comments followed a Bloomberg report about Apple CEO Tim Cook's all-hands meeting with staff. Although he expressed optimism, according to the report, he couldn't quite guarantee that Apple wouldn't need to lay off staff because of the outbreak.
Of course, using those data points -- and realizing that most of Apple's retail stores around the world are closed -- it might be easy to draw the conclusion that times will be tough for the tech giant.
After all, with fewer people willing to buy iPhones, no stores open, and reports of shortages in its supply chain, Apple is definitely in for a bad 2020, right?
Well, that depends on how you look at it.
Will iPhone sales be down this quarter? Absolutely. And the same may be said for iPads, Macs, and other devices. But Services continue to be a powerful component in Apple's business. And despite what Hall said, there's no reason to believe Services will get hit that hard.
Apple TV+ might not be the most successful Apple launch we've seen, but Apple Music continues to grow and iCloud is a must-have for Apple device owners. Even if Apple doesn't sell a single new device this year, there's still a massive ammount of iPhones and iPads in use that need those Services. And that alone makes Apple's Services business compelling.
But again, calling for trouble at Apple also requires you to look only at what's happening right now. Apple sells the largest number of iPhones at the end of the year, when it unveils new devices. We're not there yet and we don't know yet what demand will look like at that time. It might better than many think. And since Apple is planning a new iPhone design this year, and there are millions of aging iPhones in the wild, Apple might attract more shoppers than some believe.
Then there's the cash -- the $200 billion or so in Apple's cash hoard that can be deployed at any time.
For years, Cook has been criticized for not making big acquisitions. But the fact is, valuations were sky high and few good deals were available. Now, with companies in trouble and market caps coming down, it's the perfect time for Apple to make acquisitions at valuations that are far more reasonable. The company has already started to do some shopping.
Indeed, by the end of this year, Apple may be in a decidedly different place if it can find good acquisitions. And I firmly believe there will be several good acquisitions for the company to make across health and wellness, content (think movie studios), and streaming providers (it's time for Apple TV Plus to grow up).
Apple is by no means immune to the coronavirus, as we've seen in recent weeks, but it's much healthier than many of its competitors. And that, coupled with its massive cash reserve, makes it quite likely to get out of 2020 in a stronger position than before.