Apple Found a Wall Street Narrative
After months of iPhone sales estimates being slashed by analysts, expectations have been reset. The iPhone mega upgrade cycle of 2018 that so many were calling for is not going to happen. One assumes such a reset would have been accompanied by a significant decline in Apple’s stock price. Instead, Apple shares have outperformed the market and continue to trade near all-time highs. The resiliency in Apple’s stock price reflects the company finally finding a narrative on Wall Street, and it’s not centered on the iPhone. Apple has become a capital allocation story.
Instead of iPhone sales or Apple Services revenue gaining importance, Apple’s balance sheet strategy is driving the company’s new Wall Street narrative.
There are three core tenets to Apple’s capital allocation narrative:
Superb cash flow generation. Apple’s business model predisposes the company to superior cash flow generation. Apple is able to monetize premium experiences more effectively and efficiently than anyone else. Instead of chasing scale, Apple sells tools that management think people will want and are willing to pay for. Scale ends up being merely a byproduct of a successful strategy. Apple is generating more than $60 billion of operating cash flow per year.
Capital efficiency. Apple’s business model is remarkably efficient in terms of the amount of capital required to generate these cash flows. Instead of owning a complex web of factories, Apple has built a network of third-party suppliers and assemblers that are second to none. In addition, the company remains focused when it comes to funding capital expenditures for organic growth. As a result of these actions, Apple reports more free cash flow than Alphabet, Facebook, and Amazon combined.
Returning excess capital to shareholders. Given such strong free cash flow generation, Apple is kicking off more cash than management needs to fund growth opportunities. Instead of sitting on the excess cash or spending the cash on unattractive projects, management has shown the willingness to return excess cash to shareholders via share repurchases and quarterly cash dividends.