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  • Investors should imitate Warren Buffett and buy Apple while it's cheap, Bernstein's Toni Sacconaghi said.
  • He says the stock is attractively priced, pushed down by cyclical issues in China, not due to fundamental problems.
  • The stock will also see boosted upside from its forthcoming iPhone 16 cycle, he told CNBC.

Investors should grab Apple because it's looking cheap, Bernstein said on Monday, turning bullish on the stock for the first time in years.

The investment firm upgraded Apple to “outperform,” shedding the “neutral” rating it's held since 2018. Its $195 price target remained unchanged, signaling 12% upside from where shares stood as of Tuesday. 

“Be like Buffett,” analyst Toni Sacconaghi wrote in a note: “Despite his reputation as a long term buy and hold investor, Warren Buffett has been remarkably disciplined at adding to his Apple position when it is relatively cheap and trimming when it is relatively expensive.” 

For investors, that means adding positions at multiples of 25 times or below, and reducing exposure at more than 30 times. The stock is currently trading at 2024 forward price-earnings ratio of 26.4.

Bernstein's change of tune chiefly stems from its outlook on Apple's dilemmas in China, a leading reason for why the smartphone giant has slid 10% in markets this year — rising competition and iPhone crackdowns in the country have chipped at Apple's standing in the key market. 

But in Bernstein's take, this issue is more cyclical than structural.

“What we found is, we're getting a price break on it,” Sacconaghi told CNBC Tuesday. “We saw the price come down because of the fears over the week, iPhone 15 cycle and because of concerns about China, and we believe that Apple's business model was very much intact.”

Cheap pricing and low expectations for this quarter are setting the stock up for a clearing event, right before Apple enters a seasonally strong trading period, he said. Upside is especially warranted with the iPhone 16 scheduled to release this year:

“It's somewhat incredulous to me that such a large cap stock could have such a defined seasonal pattern, but in 15 of the last 17 years Apple's outperformed in the three months before an iPhone launch and by an average of about 13% outperformance,” Sacconaghi told the outlet.

A future catalyst could also come in the form of an artificial intelligence enabled phone, he said.

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