World Economy

Apple doesn't have a China sales problem: Experts

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Despite lots of boisterous talk that Apple has a China problem, experts told CNBC that Asia's largest economy is not acting as a drag on the tech giant, and Chinese consumers are not losing their appetite for Apple products.

Cowen downgraded Apple to "market perform" on Wednesday morning, citing "China demand concerns." The note said there's mounting "evidence of a widespread demand reset from China" and pointed to sluggish China numbers from the automobile industry, United Technologies, Fairchild Semiconductor and Linear Technology.

Apple executives touted their China performance on a Tuesday evening earnings call, but Cowen analyst Timothy Arcuri said the company may experience weak Chinese sales in coming quarters.

Customers browse iPhone 6s smartphones at an Apple Store in Shanghai.
Zhang Peng | LightRocket | Getty Images

"I heard what they said and I think that they may not have even seen it yet. I think that if you look across the board, you have many companies ... that are indicating that there was a pretty material slowdown starting in May and June," Arcuri told CNBC's "Squawk on the Street."

But several other analysts said Wednesday that they aren't worried about Apple's China story.

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"China's results were terrific and better than we had experienced," said Toni Sacconaghi, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein. "I think the momentum suggests we're going to continue to have growth in China for a few more quarters."

Welch Capital Partners' Dan Ernst said that temporary speed bumps from China—including a recent decline in stock markets there—are not a problem for a big, cash-rich company like Apple that is thinking in the long term in China.

A Wednesday note from Atlantic Equities, meanwhile, reiterated an "overweight" rating on Apple, given "growth prospects in China"—especially in light of "impressive" gains in the last quarter.

Apple reported fiscal third-quarter Greater China revenue of $13.23 billion, a 112 percent gain from $6.23 billion in the year-ago period. The region (which includes Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China) saw "outstanding" results, Apple CEO Tim Cook said Tuesday, adding that the company is going "pedal to the metal" with its expansion plans there.

"We remain extremely bullish on China and we're continuing to invest," he said. "Nothing that's happened has changed our fundamental view that China will be Apple's largest market at some point in the future."

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Anyone who says that the Chinese consumer may have hit a reset has a "fundamental" misunderstanding of the country's market, said Brian Buchwald, a China specialist and CEO of consumer research firm Bomoda. Although there has been some pullback in the purchase of more basic, foreign-made goods, luxury buying is as strong as ever, he said.

Buchwald said that data showing slower Chinese spending on luxury goods fail to account for booming, nontraditional retail markets. Those include foreign websites, purchases made during travel and an ever-growing market for Chinese expats who resell foreign products back home.

"You see massive growth in the Chinese consumer—it's just not occurring in the traditional way we think about it," he said.