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Stocks  | July 9, 2019

Apple Inc.’s iPhone business could disappoint in the next upgrade cycle, following a massive flop for the iPhone XS over the past few months. 

That’s according to Rosenblatt Securities analyst Jun Zhang, who downgraded Apple’s stock to a rare sell rating from neutral on Monday, citing concerns about the recent rally in the shares and the potential for a lackluster iPhone launch season later this fall.

“We do not think Apple is a short (the company has plenty of cash and a meaningful stock buy back program); however, we believe Apple will face fundamental deterioration over the next six to 12 months,” he wrote.

Apple shares fell 2.1% Monday to pace the Dow Jones Industrial Average’s decliners, but have still outperformed the Dow by a wide margin this year.

Zhang called Apple’s iPhone XS “one of the worst selling iPhone models in the history of Apple” as the company struggles to generate buzz for its middle-priced iPhone in its relatively new three-phone strategy. His research suggests that Apple’s lowest-priced new iPhone model, the XR, has outsold the XS and XS Max combined since the devices were launched late last year. Zhang’s supply-chain discussions indicate that Apple cut iPhone XR production for the third quarter as it readies for the next launch “and because of weakness in sales in Q2.”

He’s not convinced that Apple’s iPhone issues will go away with the new wave of devices expected out this fall. “With limited upgrades for the new iPhone models in the fall and expectations of a 5G iPhone in 2020, we expect major iPhone upgrades to be pushed out to the second half of 2020,” Zhang wrote.

Analyst sentiment toward Apple is generally bullish. Of the 42 analysts tracked by FactSet who cover Apple’s stock, just three have sell ratings, while 21 rate the stock a buy and 18 rate it a hold. The average price target is $210.87, 5.6% above current levels.

Apple shares are up 27% so far this year, as the Dow has risen 15%.

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