Is Apple stock’s next stop $2 trillion or $4 trillion?

The consumer tech tastemaker hits $3 trillion, but the next big milestone won’t come easy.

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This article was originally published on All figures quoted in US dollars unless otherwise stated.

Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) kicked off the New Year with flair, becoming the first publicly traded company to top $3 trillion in market capitalization on Monday. It's a big feat, and a big round number. What can the world's most valuable company do for an encore later in 2022?

Will the first company to hit $3 trillion become the first one to surpass $4 trillion? It's a logical choice, and inertia is certainly in its favor. However, it's just as easy to see Apple fall to $2 trillion -- especially if the market corrects after a year that was more than kind for the titans of tech while neglecting most of the smaller growth stocks

The battlefield is set. Will Apple fall to $2 trillion? Will it keep climbing to $4 trillion? The math is easy with Apple at $3 trillion, as it basically boils down to whether it will lose a third of its value or rise by a third of its value. Let's check with both camps.

The case for $2 trillion

The consumer tech tastemaker has been a wealth-altering investment over the years, but that doesn't mean that it only moves up. Apple has shed more than a third of its value five times over the past 16 years, averaging a major drawdown every three years. The last pullback was naturally two years ago, when the market initially tanked as a result of the COVID-19 crisis hitting the U.S., but Apple fared better than most growth stocks with a mere 35% decline at that point. The stock has more than tripled from the last drawdown 22 months ago, so one might even suggest that Apple is due for a swift correction. 

Right now it's easy to be bullish on Apple. As big as the class act of Cupertino may be, it still managed to grow its net sales by 33% in fiscal 2021. However, just as the stock averages a drawdown every three years, it has seen a spike in sales once every three years when there's a major iPhone upgrade. Apple's top line saw double-digit growth in fiscal 2012, 2015, 2018, and 2021. The years between those pops all saw single-digit or sometimes even negative top-line growth. History looks set to repeat, as analysts see net sales climbing just 4% this year and 5% in fiscal 2023. 

Another thing about the iPhone -- clearly the primary driver here at 52% of the $365.8 billion in sales Apple posted for all of fiscal 2021 -- is that it's not growing market share. This continues to be an Android world for the masses, and that's not expected to change anytime soon. 

The iPhone's market share peaked nine years ago. It's been sliding outside of the short-lived spikes, with Android growing at the expense of Apple's iOS. Here's the percentage of worldwide smartphone shipments that are expected to be iPhones in the coming years, according to industry tracker IDC:  

  • 2021 -- 16.2%
  • 2022 -- 15.9%
  • 2023 -- 15.6%
  • 2024 -- 15.3%
  • 2025 -- 15.1%

The iPhone may have the high-end market cornered, and the new M1-powered Macs look pretty sweet. However, these are premium products. If the economy buckles -- and you know that's a very realistic scenario right now -- Apple could easily give back a third of the monster gains it has garnered over the past two years. 

The case for $4 trillion

Apple stock isn't exactly cheap, and at 33 times trailing earnings it's a rich price for a stock that musters double-digit growth just once every three years. However, there's something to be said about essentially cornering the market for people willing to pay a premium for phones, tablets, and computers. 

Apple's ability to command a healthy mark-up on its products makes it special, and that's before we consider the high-margin power of its services segment, which now accounts for nearly a fifth of its revenue. Apple may be at $3 trillion for the time being, but the company itself has never been as potent as it is right now. 

What if this isn't the peak? What if the mobile 5G revolution extends the upgrade cycle? Apple has routinely defined markets -- for everything from tablets to smartphones to smartwatches -- where others have fallen short. Do you really think an Apple car wouldn't sell briskly if it ever came out? Apple is unique in that it succeeds far more than it fails when it thinks outside the box. It's true that the stock's valuation isn't for the timid, and it's not as if its 0.5% yield is wooing income investors. However, Apple finds a way to make magic happen. Hitting $4 trillion would be just the next trick for tech's ultimate magician that can always read your mind. It's a gift that you don't want to be against. 

This article was originally published on All figures quoted in US dollars unless otherwise stated.

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Rick Munarriz owns Apple. The Motley Fool Australia's parent company Motley Fool Holdings Inc. owns and recommends Apple. The Motley Fool Australia has recommended Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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