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Analysts: 'Stay the course with Apple,' $450 price target set


While traders on the Frankfurt DAX sent Apple shares sliding 6 percent today, similar to the drop that occurred in the US the last time Apple announced that its chief executive Steve Jobs was taking a leave of absence, US analysts expressed more confidence in Apple's market strength.

Brian White, the senior research analyst at Ticonderoga, noted in a report today that "With Steve Jobs as arguably the most iconic CEO in the world and widely recognized as the 'heart and soul' of Apple, we expect the stock to come under heavy selling pressure on Tuesday." US markets were closed today in observation of the Martin Luther King Jr holiday.

"If the stock goes into a significant downturn in the coming weeks on this news and/or further developments in the future," White added, "we believe Apple would be wise to tap into its $51 billion net cash position (as of the end of FY10; we estimate $70.8 billion by the end of FY11) for a significant stock repurchase or a generous cash dividend."

At the same time, White added, "Steve Jobs's health issues have long been a risk to the Apple story (e.g., and listed as a risk to our price target), and we believe one of the reasons the stock still only trades at just 15x (ex-cash) our CY11 EPS estimate, despite rapid growth and arguably the best product cycle in the tech world.

"Additionally, Steve Jobs deeply cares about his employees and the future of Apple; thus ,we believe he has been building a strong team that is able to successfully lead Apple into the future. Finally, Tim Cook's performance during Steve Jobs's medical leave in 2009 was excellent, highlighting Apple's strong bench.

"We believe 2011 will prove to be a great year for the fundamentals at Apple as the iPhone gains continued momentum and starts to tap into CDMA networks around the world. Also, we expect the iPad to start gaining mass adoption, while we anticipate the Mac product line to remain strong."

Ticonderoga maintained a buy rating, setting a price target of $450. Apple stock is currently at $348.

Tangible impact unlikely, perception may be a problem

A report by Reuters offered similar perspectives from other analysts, with Kaufman Bros. analyst Shaw Wu suggesting "a buying opportunity for investors." Wu was cited as saying, "Obviously the stock is going to get hit tomorrow. But I see no reason why this stock won't continue to work."

The report also cited Alexander Peterc, an equity analyst at Exane, as noting, "this will come as a surprise to Apple investors and definitely take some shine off the Apple stock. But even if Steve Jobs never returns to Apple, I would not expect a visible, tangible impact on how Apple is executing over the next couple of years."

Also cited was Richard Windsor, of Nomura Securities, who "agreed that Jobs' absence should not have a fundamental effect, but added: 'Perception of the company is another matter."

Windsor is particularly aware of the power of perception, having drafted reports in 2007 that claimed the original iPhone would likely suffer problems due to a faulty industrial design using “a chemical deposition to provide touch sensitivity based on heat,” predicting that Apple might have to recall millions of faulty units.

The iPhone did not ever employ "touch sensitivity based on heat," instead being capacitive sensitive. That didn't stop Windsor from repeating the same prediction a year later with the iPhone 3G, this time referencing imagined problems in the phone’s Infineon chips.