These are the three big questions facing Apple in 2019, analyst says

  • RBC Capital's Amit Daryanani posed three questions that could push or pull on Apple's stock this year.
  • Daryanani thinks Apple may reverse course on offering several tiers of pricing for each smartphone generation.
  • Apple shares recent fall in price could "cause the company to rethink or tweak capital allocation," he said.
Apple CEO Tim Cook
Josh Edelson | AFP | Getty Images
Apple CEO Tim Cook

Apple, like most of the major technology stocks, endured a volatile 2018.

But what lies ahead for Apple in 2019? RBC Capital's Amit Daryanani posed three questions that could push or pull on Apple's stock this year.

First, an abbreviated history of Apple's past few months. In August, the iPhone maker briefly became the first publicly traded U.S. company to reach $1 trillion in market cap. Investor confidence was riding high on Apple, with revenue from the company's software and services businesses driving growth in the first half of last year.

Yet, since topping out in October, Apple's stock has lost more than 30 percent. The "FAANG" trade of Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google-owning Alphabet has fallen out of favor on Wall Street. A chorus of analysts have cut Apple's price target over the last two months, citing weakened expectations for iPhone production and sales.

Apple ended 2018 down nearly 7 percent for the year – the stock's worst year of trading since the 2008 financial crisis. The company also never launched AirPower, a rare product launch miss, after announcing the wireless charging device in 2017.

Here are Daryanani's questions about Apple's future, as well as how he thinks things may play out in 2019.

"Could AAPL rethink segmentation next cycle?"

If iPhone demand continues to weaken, Daryanani thinks Apple may reverse course on offering several tiers of pricing for each smartphone generation.

Early "indications are that consumers have rejected the less expensive iPhone XR," Daryanani said.

However, Apple may "instead get more aggressive" with its iPhone product portfolio, said Daryanani. He said Apple could expand its iPhone horizon with leasing options, offering "iPhone as a service."

"Will AAPL launch a new streaming service?"

Apple's notable investments in created content last year appear to suggest the company's streaming goals are greater than simply "bolstering its Apple Music user base," Daryanani said. But how Apple will do so remains to be seen.

"Would it contain library content or add-on channels and would it be bundled with Apple Music are all relevant questions. Importantly, would investors view such a service as a project that absorbs massive capital or a recurring revenue source that improves stock multiple?" Daryanani said.

"Could the recent stock performance cause AAPL to re-evaluate capital allocation?"

The final possibility Daryanani explored is how Apple shares' recent fall in price could "cause the company to rethink or tweak capital allocation," he said. Apple could increase its dividend, Daryanani said, or even make "a stronger case for M&A" thanks to "more amenable" market valuations.

Apple shares opened the first day of 2019 trading at $154.89 a share, down about 2 percent, but recovered to close slightly positive. RBC has an outperform rating on Apple with a price target of $220 a share.

— CNBC's Michael Bloom contributed to this report.