Jun 18, 2019

Axios Markets

By Dion Rabouin
Dion Rabouin

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Situational awareness:

  • Huawei's CEO says the company will miss sales forecasts by about $30 billion over the next couple years. (CNN)
  • Robotics company Nuro will begin delivering Domino's pizzas to customers in autonomous robots in one location this autumn. (Washington Post)
  • China's holdings of U.S. government debt fell to the lowest level since May 2017. (Reuters)
  • Boeing announced 0 new orders for its airplanes, while Airbus recorded orders of $13 billion, at day 1 of the Paris Air Show. (Bloomberg)
  • Facebook unveiled details on its Libra currency, the governing foundation and its digital wallet, called Calibra. (Axios)
1 big thing: Apple needs a next act

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

With the iPhone's global dominance waning, there's a growing chorus of skeptics betting that Apple is headed the way of Blackberry and Nokia.

Why it matters: While Apple still generates ridiculous cash flow, the nearly $900 billion megacompany's growth is built on its ability to reinvent and dominate entire product categories, which it hasn't done lately. Doubters don't see evidence that Apple still has the innovative juice it needs to dominate not just tech but the global consumer marketplace.

The iPhone is Apple's most important product and generates the bulk of its revenue. The App Store and various other offerings feed off the iPhone's ubiquity and popularity.

  • But the iPhone is fast losing market share, and Apple services like streaming music, streaming video and home speakers show no signs of generating similar cash flow.
  • Apple Watch, AirPods and other "wearables" are buzzy, but account for a fraction of the company's earnings.
  • "There are just too many negatives," Richard Mathes, president of asset manager Mathes Company, who dumped all his Apple holdings earlier this year, tells Axios. "They're going to be a slower growth company going forward."

Apple's biggest problem is China, where it is no longer seen as a trend-setting company and the new iPhone has stopped being a must-have, luxury product, says Linda Zhang, CEO of Purview Investments.

Investors have taken notice. Following the company's first quarter earnings report — which beat expectations, but revealed the steepest decline ever in iPhone sales — Apple became by far the most shorted company in the world, according to data provided to Axios from S3 Partners.

  • In April, short interest levels were almost double that of the No. 2 most shorted company, Tesla.
  • Its stock has posted solid gains in recent years, but critics point to Apple's growing reliance on stock buybacks. The company announced more than $100 billion in repurchases last year.

Yes, but: This could all turn around — because we really don't know what Apple is cooking. The iPhone itself was a second act for Apple, which nearly died in the late 90s.

  • Apple has suggested it's got things in the works on the health/wellness front, leveraging the Apple Watch and its privacy reputation.
  • According to The Information, Apple is in talks to buy Intel's modem business to boost its 5G capabilities, though it's still expected to sit out of the first wave of 5G adoption.

Apple representatives declined to comment.

Many who follow the tech space are starting to doubt the Apple story. Aija Leiponen, professor of applied economics at Cornell's SC Johnson College of Business, told Axios in March she's been wary of Apple's new offerings.

  • "Maybe there will be another breakthrough, but I don't see it right now."
Bonus: The move to No. 3
Expand chart
Reproduced from IDC; Table: Axios Visuals

By the numbers: Globally, smartphone sales are slowing down, but data shows Apple is doing especially poorly. Consumers are slower to upgrade their iPhones, and they're switching brands.

  • Apple saw a 30% decline in shipments in Q1 2019 from last year, as "the iPhone struggled to win over consumers in most major markets," data from market research firm IDC shows.
  • It now holds just 11.7% of global smartphone market share, down more than 25% from a year ago.
  • The U.S., where Apple holds its largest market share, saw the biggest decline in shipments.
  • Shipments for Apple's iOS platform are expected to fall by more than 12% this year.
2. For Estée Lauder airports are the new malls

As dollars have grown scarce at many traditional retail outlets, cosmetics powerhouse Estée Lauder has found an interesting way to make its money. For the first time last year, it generated more revenue at airports globally than at U.S. department stores, data shows.

What's happening: The airport is becoming a booming shopping destination and Estée Lauder, home to brands like Clinique, MAC and Tom Ford Beauty, has been taking full advantage.

  • Duty-free and other airport spending binges, especially by Chinese and other travelers from emerging markets like Russia, India and Brazil, have helped jolt the stock up more than 35% year-to-date.

The big picture: Globally, sales from duty-free shops and other travel-retail channels rose almost 10% to a record $76 billion in 2018, according to research firm the Data Circle.

  • "Travel retail consists of airport shops, in-flight purchases, duty-free stores neighboring airports, cruises and online orders picked up at the airport. All stores located beyond airport customs are duty-free," WSJ's Jaewon Kang and Sharon Terlep report.
3. June's truly ugly Empire state manufacturing survey
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Source: FRED via Federal Reserve Bank of New York; Chart: Axios Visuals

The June reading of the Empire State Manufacturing Index, a regional survey of manufacturing industry business owners by the New York Fed, was quite bad. The headline reading was -8.6, down from 17.8 the month before, the largest monthly decline ever recorded.

  • The survey was also the lowest reading since October 2016.
  • It was expected to be 11.0, and the nearly 19-point miss is the biggest since November 2010.
  • The details were also bad, with new orders falling 20 points, prices received down 6 points, shipments down 7 points and number of employees falling 8 points.

Yes, but: "This looks terrible, but it won't last," says Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, in a note to clients. "The survey is conducted during the first 10 days of the month so it likely reflects the peak of Mexico tariff fear. ... During that period, businesses appear to have panicked."

4. Q1 earnings were a pleasant surprise

With 496 S&P 500 companies having reported first quarter earnings, more than three quarters (75.6%) beat expectations, with Q1 earnings now expected to increase 1.6%, data from Lipper shows.

What it means: That's a far cry from the first stage of an earnings recession analysts feared early in the year.

But, but, but: Investors are hardly out of the woods, as fears are growing about substantiated damage from the U.S.-China trade war, most recently thanks to a report from semiconductor giant Broadcom.

  • CEO Hock E. Tan warned that the second quarter bump the company had projected is now unlikely.

"As a result [of the trade war], demand volatility has increased and our customers are actively reducing inventory levels to manage risks. This leads us to believe the second half of 2019 will be more in line with the first half as opposed to the previously expected recovery. We now anticipate fiscal 2019 semiconductor solutions segment revenue of $17.5 billion, which translates into a year-over-year decline in the high single digits.”

Dion Rabouin