Apple shares bounce on China deal but upside seen as limited
Apple received a bounce Monday as its Frankfurt-listed stock rose 3.4 percent after confirmation of its distribution deal with China Mobile. But analysts have told CNBC that any upside for the U.S. technology giant could be limited.
Nonetheless, investors cheered the long-awaited announcement made Sunday evening with the Chinese mobile carrier due to launch the Apple iPhone across greater China next month.
Shares were 3.7 percent higher in premarket trade and its German-listed stock rose sharply higher as Frankfurt opened on Monday. Apple's suppliers also joined in on the rally. U.K.-based chip designer ARM Holdings saw its shares push 2.62 percent higher and German-based semiconductor company Dialog rose 3.5 percent. Apple shares are currently trading lower for the month by 1.27 percent, after rallying around 15 percent during the months of October and November.
(What are Apple shares doing now? Click here)
Meanwhile, China Mobile's Hong Kong-listed shares were nearly 1 percent higher on the news. Ratings agency Moody's said the deal was "credit positive" for the mobile telecoms group -- which bills itself as the world's largest mobile company, with 750 million subscribers.
But investors expecting a boost to sales for Apple, like that seen recently in Japan, should be warned. David Stephenson, head of product and business development at Baring Asset Management told CNBC Monday that this is still very much a medium to long term play.
(Read More: China Mobile to carry Apple's iPhone from January)
"The bulk of the population will not be buying Apple right now," he said. It's still an "aspirational spend" for many on the country, he added, and China would need to deal with low wages and wealth disparity before big brands like Apple would see significant profit margins in the country.
In September, Apple began selling its new devices - the 5s and the lower-cost 5c - in 11 markets. The devices were made available in Japan via the country's largest carrier, NTT DoCoMo. A month after the Japan launch, Apple released fourth-quarter results which showed revenues in the country had soared by 41 percent compared to the same period the year before. In contrast, sales in greater China had increased just 6 percent in the same period. Apple's smartphone market share for Japan managed to hit 76.1 percent during October, according to research firm Kantar Worldpanel ComTech.
Competition between operators in Japan means that iPhones are effectively free with two-year contracts in the country. In the U.K., subsidies from carriers mean that the iPhone 5s can be purchased for free with a two-year deal which costs a total of £888 ($1,452). In the U.S., models are sold for $200 with a similar length contract.
(Read More: Biggest loser ofApple-China Mobile deal: Samsung)
Pricing has yet to be announced in China, but with the lack of carrier subsidies like those seen in the West, analysts are doubtful that the China Mobile deal would make such as a massive impact to sales.
"The market is actually much smaller than that 750 million figure," Alastair Newton, senior political analyst at Nomura told CNBC Monday. "It's an important deal but let's not get carried away."
He still expects people to flock to the brand but told CNBC that competition in the country was fierce from other handset makers and mobile carriers. Benedict Evans, an analyst at Enders Analysis told CNBC via email that perhaps 100 million Chinese people could afford premium products like the iPhone. Chinese original equipment manufacturers like Xiaomi, which make Android phones are cheaper prices, would mean Apple's future growth in China would be tough, he added.
(Read more: Apple's market share on the rise)
Apple doesn't currently rank in the top five smartphone vendors in China in terms of market share, according to research firm IDC. Its latest figures said that Apple's market share had "declined dramatically" but was bullish on sales going forward.
"With the issuance of 4G licenses and the launch of Apple's new iPhones by China Mobile, IDC expects China's smartphone shipments to exceed 450 million in 2014 (compared to 360 million in 2013)," it said in a press release in late September.
According to Evans, Apple still need to increase its "retail footprint" in the country and boost the amount of places where consumers can purchase the product. However, he suggests that the recent acquisition of Angela Ahrendts, as senior vice-president of retail and online stores, was completed to meet this need.
— CNBC.com's Matt Clinch. Follow him on Twitter