Apple shares slide after iPhone maker issues rare revenue warning

(Reuters) – Apple Inc shares fell as much as 9 percent in early trading after the iPhone maker blamed weak China demand for its revenue shortfall in the holiday quarter, a clear sign of the company’s struggles in the world’s largest smartphone market.

The rare revenue warning – the company’s first in nearly 12 years – sent shockwaves through global financial markets with chipmakers that supply to Apple being the hardest hit.

Shares of U.S.-based suppliers and chipmakers including Cirrus Logic Inc, Skyworks Solutions Inc, Analog Devices, Broadcom Inc, NXP Semiconductors NV and Micron Technology Inc were all down in trading before the opening bell.

Wall Street analysts scrambled to cut their price targets on Apple’s stock, with at least 15 of them lowering their price estimates. Wedbush made the most aggressive move, slashing its price target by $75 to $200, slightly above the median price target of $196.

“Last night was clearly Apple’s darkest day in our opinion and represents a challenging growth period ahead for the company and its investors,” Wedbush analyst Dan Ives wrote in a note to clients.

Ives, however, said he remained bullish on the Apple story despite the “black eye” results.

In a letter to investors on Wednesday, Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook said the company did not foresee the magnitude of the economic deceleration in China, later adding that trade tensions between Washington and Beijing further pressured the company.

Apple’s dour revenue warning was not entirely a surprise. Many analysts and investors have worried about a slowdown in iPhone sales since the company said in November it would stop disclosing unit sales data for its phones and other hardware products.

The outlook cut exacerbated worries that Apple may be falling out of favor with its users in China, given the company’s push on pricing and availability of cheaper options from competitors such as Huawei Technologies Co Ltd [HWT.UL].

In a note titled “Apple’s Miss: Bridging the Gap Between Perception and Reality”, long-time Apple analyst Gene Munster from Loup Ventures said while the revenue miss was largely expected, the magnitude of the miss was disappointing.

“It’s understandable that investors are piecing together what went wrong and its impact on the business longer-term,” Munster said.

On Wednesday, Apple lowered its revenue forecast to $84 billion for its first quarter ended Dec. 29, below analysts’ estimate of $88.05 billion. Apple originally forecast revenue of between $89 billion and $93 billion.

Apple shares were down 7.7 percent at $147.70. The stock has fallen about 30 percent since Cook said in November that the company may miss its holiday quarter sales estimate.

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