Apple: 'From a tech titan into a dinosaur' -- but not for a year
An analyst predicts the company's demise, yet still rates it a "buy"
FORTUNE -- Here's a quote for Daring Fireball's claim chowder:
I suppose working for a company that's been in the private banking business since 1590 gives one a certain historical perspective, but it's hard to believe -- not matter what he wrote on Friday -- that Mr. Ahmad really thinks that Apple (AAPL) will face extinction in fiscal 2014.
"As we have stated before on many occasions, Apple's time to turn from a tech titan into a dinosaur will come,*but we still think that we are at least a year away..." -- Berenberg Bank's*Adnaan Ahmad
The occasion for his note -- issued the day after Apple's Q4 2012 report -- was the company's gross margin guidance for Q1 2013: A surprisingly low 36%. Like most analysts, Ahmad is pretty sure that number will trend up over the next 12 months as the company's production "learning curve" improves.
A bigger issue, he writes, are the margins on the iPad mini, which Apple has priced lower than it might otherwise if it weren't trying to squeeze competitors like Amazon (AMZN) and Google (GOOG) who can't seem to sell their 7-inch tablets for less than $199 without losing money on each sale.
But he believes the biggest worry for Apple -- and the one that led to that remark about dinosaurs -- is that day in the future when the company's iPhone business begins to slow down:
Despite his concerns, when it comes to making investment advice, Ahmad seems to want it both ways.
"The concern is obviously that with a high teens market share in the smartphone space, its share gains (like this quarter) will tap out given the high price points. This quarter, for example, ASPs were $636, which compares to $55 ASPs at Nokia, $150 ASPs at Samsung and $200-250 ASPs at HTC and RIMM. So for Apple to gain wider share of the smartphone market, it will need to offer 'customised' products at lower price points (i.e. pre-paid iPhone), rather than continue with its current strategy of dropping price on a one- or two-year old product. This will have similar margin ramifications to those that the mini has had on the iPad segment, and if Apple decides not to have customised lower-end iPhones, then growth will well and truly tap out once the China Mobile deal is signed (likely in H213). Outside of Samsung playing a price war game against Apple, this slower growth trajectory of the iPhone business is Apple's single biggest concern in our view."
"The most-asked question we face," he writes, "is*which suppliers of Apple to own – our usual response is none! Look at it this way: if an 800lb gorilla is having some margin issues, how is its supply base going to fare?...
"Hence our negative bias to Qualcomm, Imagination, Hon Hai, Catcher, TPK, Foxconn Technology and Dialog. If you want to play the volume theme, you would play Apple, Samsung and ARM, all of which we rate as Buys."