Apple shares jump as record buyback and upbeat forecast lure investors

By Aditya Soni

(Reuters) -Apple shares jumped 7% on Friday as the iPhone maker’s record stock buyback plan and promise of sales growth brought back investors who have shunned the stock on concerns over weak demand and increased competition in China.

The company late on Thursday forecast fiscal third-quarter sales that exceeded Wall Street’s modest expectations.

It also approved an additional $110 billion in share repurchases, the largest ever buyback authorization by a U.S. company, according to EPFR analyst Winston Chua.

Friday’s stock gain added nearly $200 billion to Apple’s market capitalization, lifting it to $2.86 billion, second only to Microsoft, worth $3 trillion.

At Friday’s stock price, executing Apple’s full buyback authorization would amount to repurchasing nearly 4% of the company’s shares.

Apple’s forecast showed it is confident that product updates, starting with an iPad event on May 7, will drive demand in its hardware business after months of sluggish growth that made some investors doubt its status as a must-own stock.

“Many investors had begun to question if Apple still has what it takes to deliver the top growth they have become accustomed to over the years, but CEO Tim Cook turned on the charm and offered relief to investors,” said Josh Gilbert, analyst at investment platform eToro.

The buyback aligned Apple with other U.S. tech giants that have showered investors with cash in recent earnings seasons to soothe concerns about rising investments in generative AI. Some analysts also saw it as a sign that the industry was maturing.

“Growth stocks must demonstrate they are still growing at a pace that satisfies their shareholders. Once that growth slows, and Apple is a prime example, then buybacks or dividends can persuade investors to keep the faith,” said Danni Hewson, head of financial analysis at AJ Bell.

Unlike Alphabet and Microsoft, Apple has not seen a cost surge as it has not made big AI investments. But the slow rollout of AI services has been punished by investors, which partly fueled the 10% drop in its share price this year.

CEO Cook said Apple plans to share “some very exciting things”, fanning expectations among several analysts that Apple would announce AI integrations at its upcoming annual developer conference, which is expected to be the biggest ever.

Bernstein analysts said they expected “a strong iPhone 16 cycle fueled by AI functionality as well as elongated replacement cycles”.

At least 13 analysts raised their target price on Apple, pushing up the median view to $200, which is 15% higher than the stock’s last closing price.

Apple’s stock recently traded at 25 times its 12-month forward earnings estimates, compared with 30.5 for Microsoft. The Windows maker took the crown as the world’s most valuable firm from Apple earlier this year, thanks to its AI efforts.

(Reporting by Aditya Soni in Bengaluru; additional reporting by Lewis Krauskopf and Sinead Carew in New York; Editing by Arun Koyyur and Jonathan Oatis)