Can Apple Defy Gravity Forever?
Richard is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.
Sir Isaac Newton reminded the world that "for every action, there is an equal or opposite reaction." According to history, Newton’s theory was said to have been inspired by a fallen apple.
Today however, and for better of the past three years, it is yet another Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL), a technological force, or as some would proclaim, "The leader of the free world," that now wants to defy gravity and proclaim its irrelevance. However, Wall Street has its own theory – one that investors know all too well – "what goes up, must come down." Nonetheless, so far Apple’s stock has been doing a great job convincing us that gravity does not exist in Cupertino. But the question is, for how long?
After being one of the best growth stocks on the market, the company almost gave in to gravity in the mid '90s as it flirted with bankruptcy with some nudging from rival Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT). Since then, Apple has been on a mission to not only redefine every market it enters, but kill off the previous leader – Research in Motion (NASDAQ: BBRY) being the most recent casualty.
It started with the success of the iPod, which then convinced Apple it had a shot in the smartphone market. Since then, the company's cruising altitude has yet to be reached. What’s more, the success of its iPads have placed once-dominant PC manufacturers such as Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ) and Dell (NASDAQ: DELL) in a position to either reorganize their businesses or perish.
Now here comes its highly anticipated iPhone 5. That the company recently stopped accepting preorders means that we now live in a world where consumers value iPhones over oil. How else could Apple have surpassed ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) as the largest and most valuable publicly traded company in the world? But it doesn’t end there. Because with any level of success it earns, Wall Street wants more.
On Friday, the stock closed at $691.28 after reaching yet another all-time high at $696.98. When one considers that the stock started the year at $403, it has gained as much as 73%. This is despite a disappointing fiscal third quarter where its iPhone sales underperformed broadly due to cannibalization of its anticipated iPhone 5. As noted, that preorders of the new phone have now ceased should serve as confirmation that this was in fact the reason.
What this means is that Apple is now playing by a different set of rules. Wall Street has shown to be completely unforgiving while demonstrating righteous anger towards any company that disappoints on earnings – but not here. And it seems that what is now going on in the stock, aside from the bulls loading up in anticipation of higher highs, is that the Apple bears have caved in – causing what appears to be a panic rally. They figure if a miss can’t turn the tides, it’s best to change sides. But for how long can this momentum continue? One has to wonder that gravity, or in this case, logic has to step in.
The new iPhone 5 is now the primary driver of the stock. That, coupled with the prevailing horror of missing the run. The stock is now mere percentage points away from that magical and psychological $700 mark. There will be no resistance – I assure you. The only question is, when it breaks $700 where is it heading next? If the early iPhone sales are any indication, year-end predictions of $750 not only now seem too conservative, but certain to be blown entirely out of the water. Investors should now set their sights on $800 and possibly $820 heading towards that all important holiday quarter.
Without question, Apple’s growth rate has been nothing short of phenomenal. As bullish as I am on the stock and as much as I want to believe that gravity will be disappointed, the reality is, no growth story goes on forever – Microsoft and Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO) being perfect examples. As down as Research in Motion might be today, should we make the mistake of completely dismissing its ability to do what Apple was able to do a little over a decade ago - demonstrate there is life after near death? Also, what is to prevent Microsoft from scooping up RIM for pennies on the dollar to launch a mobile assault on Apple as a way to leverage the success of its own Surface tablet?
What's more, although both Dell and HP may have become somewhat irrelevant in terms of mobility, both have the cash to develop what it would take to make a respectable impact within the industry. The only question is, do they have the talent?
The fact of the matter is, there is no such thing as infinite success. The only guarantee on Wall Street is that a market leader does not remain a leader forever. Sir Isaac Newton’s theory has outlasted everything else without exception. Though gravity is allowing Apple to have its fun now, I wonder at what point it will it decide enough is enough. And will investors be prepared?
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At the time of publication, the author was long AAPL and held no position in any of the other stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Microsoft, and ExxonMobil. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. If you have questions about this post or the Fool’s blog network, click here for information.