How AI Could Skyrocket Apple to Record Highs

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By The Motley Fool

Technology stocks got off to a decent start in 2024 — the Nasdaq-100 index has clocked a 5% gain year to date as of this writing. But Apple (AAPL -1.89%), a powerhouse in the sector, has failed to sustain its impressive momentum from last year. A member of the group of mega-cap tech stocks known as the “Magnificent Seven,” it's down over 10% so far this year. 

For comparison, Apple was in fine form last year, gaining about 48%. Its reversal of fortune can be attributed to its slowing sales growth and lack of notable artificial intelligence (AI) developments. Its Magnificent Seven peers such as Meta Platforms, Nvidia, and Microsoft have been outperforming the broader tech sector this year, as their AI-focused efforts are delivering results.

The thing is, Apple's slide could offer a buying opportunity for savvy investors, as the company is in a position to capitalize on two key AI-related growth opportunities.

AI could drive solid growth in two of Apple's major businesses

In its fiscal 2024 first quarter, which ended Dec. 30, 2023, Apple's revenue increased only 2% year over year to $119.6 billion. It sold $69.7 billion worth of iPhones during the quarter, an increase of 6% from the year-ago period. Meanwhile, sales of MacBooks were basically flat at $7.8 billion.

Analysts aren't anticipating much of an acceleration in Apple's growth for all of fiscal 2024. According to consensus estimates, the company's revenue will increase by only 1% to $356.6 billion. Earnings growth is forecast to be slightly better at 7% to $6.04 per share. However, the adoption of AI in the personal computer (PC) and smartphone markets could help it deliver stronger-than-expected growth.

According to a Bloomberg article, Apple is all set to revamp its Mac lineup with a new family of AI-capable processors. Its new MacBooks are expected to be powered by the company's in-house M4 processors, and they are expected to start hitting the market toward the end of 2024, with more M4-powered computers coming in 2025.

Bloomberg points out that Apple is expected to offer the M4 processor in three variants to suit different budgets. The company is also expected to allow customers to pack these new computers with bigger memories, which won't be surprising considering that it is rumored to be planning to highlight the AI abilities of its upcoming M4-enabled MacBooks.

Apple, not surprisingly, declined to comment on the Bloomberg report. However, it won't be surprising to see the company coming out with AI-capable PCs as this market is set for robust growth. Market research firm Canalys estimates that 48 million AI-capable PCs could be shipped in 2024, accounting for 18% of the overall PC market. By 2028, it expects that AI-capable PCs will make up 70% of overall shipments — 205 million units — having clocked an annualized growth rate of 44%.

Apple, with a market share of 8.4%, was the fourth-largest PC manufacturer in 2023, according to IDC. It shipped 21.7 million MacBooks, a drop of 22% from the previous year. Given that the AI-capable PC market is currently in the early phase of its growth, Apple would do well to move swiftly into this space and make the most of the fast-growing demand. The good news for Apple investors is that analysts expect AI to help drive a significant jump in the company's iPhone sales as well.

Samik Chatterjee of JPMorgan believes that AI could lead to a robust iPhone upgrade cycle, akin to the one that occurred when it launched its 5G iPhone almost four years ago. Its sales and earnings were growing at a healthy pace at that time and the company found it difficult to meet the demand for those smartphones. The JPMorgan analyst predicts that Apple could integrate AI features into the iPhones that it will release later this year. That, too, could open a solid long-term growth opportunity: According to a forecast by Counterpoint Research, 1 billion AI smartphones will be shipped between 2024 and 2027.

Daniel Ives of Wedbush Securities estimates that there were 240 million iPhones in an upgrade window at the end of 2023. Apple shipped 226 million iPhones last year, so the company could witness a significant boost in sales as AI could help it not only attract new users but also encourage the existing installed base to buy new iPhones.

The stock's valuation means that investors are getting a good deal right now

Apple currently trades at 26 times trailing earnings, a discount to the multiple of 30 sported by the Nasdaq-100, which is a common benchmark for the tech sector. Buying shares at this valuation could turn out to be a smart move as potential improvements to the company's growth thanks to AI could help it outperform Wall Street's expectations.

It is worth noting that the 44 analysts covering the stock have given it a median 12-month price target of $200, which points toward a 16% jump from current levels. The Street-high target of $250 points toward a potential gain of 45%, which the stock could approach once its AI-focused initiatives start paying off. That's why investors looking for a potential AI winner trading at an attractive valuation should consider capitalizing on Apple's pullback.

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