Why Apple Is Still a 'Buy'

 Who sells a stock when it’s this far down?

I don’t like to give stock advice, especially about Apple. But I’m always interested to hear what the people paid to give such advice—the so-called sell-side analysts—have to say about the company’s prospects.


I polled nearly two dozen of them yesterday and posted an interactive graphic showing what happened to their individual price targets after Apple warned Wall Street that iPhone sales, for the first time, are falling year-over-year.

It was a debacle. Of 23 analysts who posted price targets, 10 stood pat and 13 cut them, several by $20 a share. One of them, FBN’s Shelby Seyrafi, by $30.

None of these analysts, however, changed his or her Apple rating, tabulated below:

Buy: 8
Outperform: 8
Overweight: 4
Market perform: 1
Hold: 3

You might be surprised to see that none of them rated the stock a “sell,” given what happened to Apple in the market Wednesday. You shouldn’t be. Sell-side analyst, despite the name, rarely tell anyone to sell anything.

Yet sell Apple is what Mr. Market did after Apple CEO Tim Cook, as one analyst put it, “ripped the Band-Aid off” Apple’s March quarter guidance. The 6.6% one-day drop knocked $30 billion off Apple’s market cap and put it, to the delight of headline writers, in danger of being overtaken by Google. Friday’s score: $536.2 billion for Apple, $522.7 billion for Google.

Why does Apple stock trade “like a steel mill on its way out of business,” as venture capitalist Marc Andreessen tweeted the other day?

I wish I knew. My suspicion is that the pressure that has pushed Apple’s P/E into the basement of the S&P 500 comes not from investors but from hedge-fund managers and trading algorithms.

Here, for example, is what Shebly Seyrafi, the analyst who knocked $30 off his Apple target Wednesday, did Thursday night after Facebook reported “blow-out” earnings. He raised his Facebook target and advised growth fund clients to “rotate out of AAPL and into FB, our Favorite Stock in 2016.”

Seyrafi maintains his “outperform” rating on Apple. But that sure sounds like a “sell” to me. And a short-term one at that.

Own Apple, don’t trade it,” is Jim Cramer’s sensible advice to his CNBC listening audience. Me, I don’t like to give advice.

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