Other tech heavyweights may have it easier than Apple amid a slowing Chinese economy

  • An economic slowdown in China may have a "chilling effect" on many companies that do business in the country and the ongoing trade war may escalate the issue, Gil Luria, director of research at D.A. Davidson & Co, said.
  • His remarks followed iPhone maker Apple slashing its first-quarter guidance on revenue, partly blaming the revision on a weakening economy in China and lower-than-expected iPhone revenue "primarily in Greater China."
  • Not all foreign tech companies doing business in China would be affected as much as the iPhone maker, several analysts told CNBC.
Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Inc.
Adam Jeffery | CNBC
Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Inc.

An economic slowdown in China may have a "chilling effect" on many companies that do business in the country, an analyst told CNBC on Thursday.

On Wednesday, iPhone maker Apple slashed first-quarter guidance on revenue, partly blaming the revision on a weakening economy in China and lower-than-expected iPhone revenue "primarily in Greater China." The region represents about 15 percent of Apple's revenue, according to analysts.

"China has been an engine of growth for many global companies over the last couple of decades and that may be coming to an end," Gil Luria, director of research at D.A. Davidson & Co, said. "The trade conflict may make this trend worse for companies doing business in China, but it is not appearing to be the only cause for the slowdown."

Beijing is caught up in an ongoing trade war with Washington and experts have warned about potential ramifications.

Recent economic data out of China have been soft: Factory activity in December across small, medium and large enterprises slowed, sparking concerns about Asia's largest economy.

China's GDP growth, meanwhile, has fallen to its slowest pace in more than two decades. The government has said it is cracking down on debt and trying to re-balance its economy to be more consumption driven, so some slowdown had been anticipated.

Against that backdrop, not all foreign tech companies doing business in China would be affected as much as the iPhone maker, several analysts told CNBC. For example, Apple's big smartphone rival, Samsung Electronics, likely would not take a major hit from a Chinese economic slowdown due to its limited exposure in the country.

"Apple is somewhat unique in the large level of presence it has in China versus many other American tech companies/brands, so I'm not sure that what happens to Apple will apply to all tech companies, or all American companies," Bob O'Donnell, president and chief analyst at Technalysis Research, told CNBC by email.

That said, he added, businesses are set to be "much more sensitive to China-specific results" and will watch developments in the country more closely.

Tech names that supply parts for Apple products, which include Samsung's components business, are unlikely to escape unscathed. On Thursday, following Apple's announcement, its suppliers in Asia saw notable declines in their share prices.

Some of those companies had been telegraphing the issue of weak iPhone sales for a few months, according to Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.

"Foxconn warned last quarter and I believe this preceded Apple's warning," he told CNBC, referring to the major Taiwanese assembler of iPhones. Aside from Foxconn, other major suppliers also warned about slower growth throughout last year.

Still, a slowdown in Chinese consumer demand, as a result of weakening economic growth, will be a "dampener for aggregate tech demand," according to Gokul Hariharan, managing director and co-head of Asia Pacific technology, media and telecom research at J.P. Morgan.

"For consumer tech, China is between 20 to 30 percent of global demand for various products — smartphones, PCs, tablets, (and) other consumer electronics products," Hariharan told CNBC, adding that the country represents the "biggest market in categories like smartphones or TVs."

As a result, slowing consumption in China is going to "pretty much impact every company," he said. That includes Asian tech companies that are only selling into China as well as firms operating in the global market.

"Even for them, 20 to 30 percent of global demand is seeing a slowdown. It is going to impact most of the tech space," Hariharan added.

While the impact on foreign tech companies may differ according to the exposure of their businesses in China, some domestic names in the country could take major hits amid faltering economic growth, Luria said.

"I believe a slowdown in the Chinese economy is very likely to drag down the growth of e-commerce companies such as Alibaba and JD," he said. "In fact, one of the strongest indications a slowdown is coming was Alibaba's commentary on their most recent earnings report."

Still, Alibaba set a new record during its annual 24-hour Singles Day shopping event last November with more than $30.8 billion in sales.

"The Chinese economy has become increasingly consumer driven, which means that as it slows down, consumer spending is likely to suffer," he added.

CNBC's Evelyn Cheng contributed to this report.