Apple slides to eight-week low after second rating downgrade in a week

(Reuters) -Apple continued its struggle in the new year on Thursday, plumbing an eight-week low after Piper Sandler handed the tech giant its second downgrade this week on worries about iPhone demand.

The rating action knocked Apple shares down 1.4% at $181.6, causing its market value to decline nearly $170 billion so far in the opening week of 2024.

Apple still remains the most valuable company by market value worldwide with a capitalization of over $2.8 trillion. Its recent declines put it only 8% below an all-time high closing price in mid-December.

Despite the downgrade from Piper, and Barclays two days earlier, there are still at least 27 analysts who have a “buy” or higher rating on the company.

“We are concerned about handset inventories entering into 1H24 and also feel that growth rates have peaked for unit sales … deteriorating macro environment in China could also weigh on handset business,” Piper Sandler lead analyst Harsh Kumar wrote in a note to clients.

Apple has been grappling with a demand slowdown since early last year and forecast holiday-quarter sales below Wall Street estimates.

The company has been dealing with weak demand in China due to strained consumer spending in the country, as well as the revival of local rival Huawei.

Apple could also face headwinds due to an ongoing patent dispute involving its new Apple Watches and a strong U.S. dollar, according to Kumar.

Piper Sandler downgraded the rating on Apple’s stock to “neutral” from “overweight” and cut its price target by $15 to $205.

   The brokerage’s comments echo those from Barclays, which downgraded Apple to a rating equivalent to “sell”, making it the most number of bearish recommendations on the stock in at least two years, according to LSEG data.

   Analysts, on average, have a target price of $200 on Apple.

(Reporting by Yuvraj Malik in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Krishna Chandra Eluri)