APPLE FACES DECADE OF UNCERTAINTY AFTER NEXT YEAR’S iPHONE

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[11/23/16]  Apple Inc. is the world’s most valuable company and has a massive cash stash, but some analysts fear a prolonged period of weak innovation has set the company up for a “decade-long malaise.”

iPhone sales are expected to peak with the release of Apple’s AAPL, -0.69%  10th anniversary iPhone next year, according to models from Oppenheimer analyst Andrew Uerkwitz, who predicts 245 million iPhones will sell in Apple’s 2018 fiscal year. That would reflect an increase of 9% from the fiscal 2017 FactSet consensus estimate of 225 million, and an increase of more than 15% from the fiscal year that ended in October.

However, Uerkwitz believes next year’s iPhone cycle will present “one last growth hurrah” before consumers begin to drift away from the high prices Apple commands for it smartphones. Apple may struggle to raise iPhone prices meaningfully beyond the next cycle as it deals with fewer hardware breakthroughs and a narrowing performance gap between the iPhone and its closest premium-tier competitors, Uerkwitz wrote.

“The risks to the company have never been greater,” said Uerkwitz, who has a perform rating on the stock. “We believe Apple is about to embark on a decade-long malaise.”

Another analyst, Monness Crespi Hardt’s James Cakmak, echoed similar bearish sentiment Monday, warning about changing consumer behavior that have lengthened upgrade cycles, and competitive threats from the likes of Alphabet Inc. GOOGL, -1.19% GOOG, -1.26%  and Amazon.com Inc. AMZN, -0.87%  in the phone, video-streaming and augmented-reality realms.

“Apple won’t have it easy again for a while, if ever,” Cakmak said.

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