×

What Wall Street liked and didn't like about Apple's latest iPhone launch

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple introduces the new iPhone 7
Michael Neuling | CNBC
Tim Cook, CEO of Apple introduces the new iPhone 7

Apple didn't surprise too many people at its latest launch event, but Wall Street analysts are mostly optimistic on the stock, given improvements that they some think will encourage upgrades and increase profits — and possibly increase expectations for next year's iPhone.

Among the announcements at its Wednesday event, Apple removed the headphone jack from its latest iPhone models and debuted the wireless headphone EarPods product, which starts at $159. The iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus will be available beginning September 16 at starting prices of $649 and $769, respectively. Pre-orders begin Friday.

CNBC looked at 23 major analysts' initial take on the Apple event and what the announcements means for the stock, which traded more than 2 percent lower Thursday.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch maintained a "buy" rating, noting "impressive" test performance of the wireless AirPod earbuds that offer a "large opportunity," lower Apple Watch pricing, and better margins from the higher priced iPhone. BofAML also noted that the fiscal fourth quarter will include about nine days of shipments for the new iPhone models.

Goldman Sachs said both the iPhone 7 and Watch Series 2 were "largely consistent with consensus expectations" but did not offer a new fast-charging technology that Goldman analysts had discussed in a preview of the Apple event. Goldman also pointed out the new iPhone will ship a week earlier than expected, and the Plus model will launch at $20 higher than the initial price for the iPhone 6 Plus and 6s Plus. The Watch Series 2 will also sell $20 higher than Goldman expected.

Wells Fargo downgraded Apple to "market perform" from "outperform" based on the view that the "positives" are already priced into the stock.

Morgan Stanley said higher iPhone 7 Plus pricing, the new headphones and "surprising Services growth acceleration" should "protect or even improve margins." The firm highlighted the new iPhone's camera features and longer battery life, as well as likely "better adoption" of the Watch Series 2 given the GPS feature.

JPMorgan said the initial iPhone availability in more than twice the number of countries this year versus last year "could boost initial sales." The firm noted that Apple didn't announce a 4K AppleTV or the expected new MacBooks, which should result in another event in October.

Citi said the higher iPhone 7 Plus price and the wireless headphones (starting at $159) should raise profit expectations and help investor sentiment.

Barclays said the new iPhone features were "evolutionary in nature" but should be good enough to encourage iPhone 5 and 4 users to consider upgrading. Barclays maintained its expectation for a major change in the iPhone next year, which would be the 10th anniversary model. Meanwhile, the bank's note said the more than 500 million iOS users is "large enough to support a return to year-over-year revenue growth" beginning calendar year 2017. Barclays also said that the number of users switching to the iPhone from other platforms should limit downside risk to Apple estimates in the near- to mid-term.

Credit Suisse said Apple's new product lineup "point to continued innovation" and "further add to Apple's strong product portfolio and provide a solid bedrock for Apple's growing Services business." Credit Suisse analysts reiterated an "outperform" rating and $150 price target, a 38 percent upside to Apple's closing price of $108.36 a share on Wednesday.

Deutsche Bank said "it continues to be difficult for Apple to truly surprise with its new products, given significant supply chain leaks, and we felt (Wednesday's) announcements were essentially in line with supply chain chatter."

Cowen said Apple's latest announcements were mostly expected but continued to create a more compelling reason for users of older iPhones to upgrade. Cowen analysts maintained their view that the iPhone 7 is a "bridge" to a significantly better model release next year. The partnership with Nike on the Watch should also help, as the sportswear's brand loyalty should support Apple sales, Cowen's note said.

Baird reiterated an "outperform" rating after Wednesday's event showed "solid upgrades for iPhone and Watch relative to low expectations." Analysts at Baird highlighted the upgraded camera features, water resistance and black finish for the new iPhone, and the new watch's "GPS and swim-proof capabilities." In its recommendation of the stock for long-term investors, the research note also pointed to "a solid upgrade opportunity" and building iPhone 8 hype.

Piper Jaffray said the new iPhone should be "compelling enough" for enough customers to upgrade and return Apple to growth, which should also attract investors to the stock. While Piper Jaffray analysts said updates mostly matched expectations, they did highlight "some better-than-expected improvements to battery." The firm reiterated an "outperform" rating and $151 price target — which marks a nearly 40 percent upside to Apple's close on Wednesday.

Stifel Nicolaus said investors should take note of the iPhone 7 Plus pricing and shipment schedule, as well as an extra, 13th week in the 2017 fiscal first quarter.

Canaccord Genuity said Apple's latest iPhone and Watch launches matched expectations, with "enough incremental" phone features to "satisfy" consumers and "sustain demand" until calendar year 2017, when the 10-year anniversary iPhone should be launched. Canaccord reiterated a "buy" rating and a $120 price target, which would be a roughly 11 percent upside from Wednesday's close.

Pacific Crest said the iPhone 7 updates should be "meaningful enough" for fiscal year 2017 unit volume to at least match Pacific Crest's estimates. The note also said the wireless headphones launch and improvements to the Watch "create the potential for upside" in the firm's model. Pacific Crest expects improved sentiment over the next year based on better growth rates for the iPhone, iPad and Mac in fiscal year 2017 and "growing anticipation" for the next iPhone model. Pacific Crest recommends buying Apple and has a price target of $121, a more than 11 percent upside from Wednesday's closing price.

Nomura said the iPhone upgrades are "largely as expected" and "incremental," but "sufficient." Nomura analysts estimate that the number of iOS users are about 35 percent higher than when the iPhone 6 launched two years ago.

Mizuho said Apple could benefit from the improved mix of products, which could also "help offset some margin pressure." The firm maintained a positive view on the stock with a $120 price target, about 11 percent upside from Wednesday's closing price.

Oppenheimer wasn't convinced the new devices would significantly change its current estimates for Apple. Analysts did note the Watch "is increasingly portrayed as a fitness device" and the launch event is an "interesting glimpse into Apple's future device ecosystem."

RBC said the launch event was "an incremental positive" as the new iPhone model and an extra week in the December quarter "should enable a strong and profitable iPhone cycle." RBC also noted expansion of the iPhone Upgrade Program to the U.K. and China should "help accelerate demand and share gains."

UBS called the new Apple products "incremental" technological developments that likely "keep offerings competitive until more differentiation arrives next year." UBS has a "buy" rating on the stock and a price target of $115, a 6 percent upside from Wednesday's close.

Macquarie said the iPhone improvements "will drive replacements and upgrades" and that the device sales should remain relatively stable, while the utility of the Watch "remains unimpressive thus far." Macquarie also said "software and services, driven by app sales, will largely be responsible for profit growth."

BMO said the "design improvements make for attractive phones" and should encourage users to upgrade to the latest models. BMO said it wasn't surprised by most of the announcements.

Drexel Hamilton said the new iPhone upgrade cycle should return Apple to growth in the second quarter and full year of fiscal year 2017. The firm also expects benefits from next year's iPhone release.


CNBC's Michael Bloom contributed to this report.