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Is Apple’s Stock on a Roll?

For several weeks, Apple’s stock was dropping over fake news that iPhone X sales had collapsed. Whether misreading the supply chain tea leaves or just making things up, those stories all turned out to have no basis in fact. Through the March quarter, the iPhone X was Apple’s best-selling smartphone and the best-selling smartphone on the planet, but the falsehoods about collapsing demand merely continued a trend that began the previous quarter.

Even then, we were told the news would be real bad, and when they weren’t, that the poor sales wouldn’t be revealed until the March quarter. Once that claim was also demonstrated to be false, yet again, there were apologies here and there, but you might have expected the trend would resume all over again after a quarter or two.

After all, this nonsense has gone on for several years. At the end of a year, when you’d expect Apple to routinely cut back on parts orders after the holiday quarter ended, when sales would obviously be lower, the claim was that Apple was in deep, deep trouble.

That other tech companies exhibited seasonal sales trends didn’t seem to matter. It always seems to be just about Apple.

This is similar to complaints that the iPhone X, starting at $999, was too expensive, even though other smartphones over the years have exceeded the $1,000 threshold. Again, it always seems to be just about Apple.

But since the March financials were revealed on May 1st, Apple’s stock has increased, and the trend continues. This time, however, the company’s financial position has vocal support from one of the world’s richest men, Warren Buffett.

So in the last quarter, Buffett’s company, Berkshire Hathaway, bought 75 million shares of Apple, raising its holdings to 240 million shares. Now it may seem like a lot, but that total is just below 5% of Apple’s shares, and it surely doesn’t mean that Buffett plans to attempt to buy the company. In turn, that’s roughly 21% of his company’s stock portfolio.

Now if you don’t recognize that corporate name, consider its holdings, which include a large insurance company, GEICO, and a fast food restaurant, Dairy Queen. It’s also the largest stockholder in United Airlines and Delta Air Lines.

It’s also the third largest pubic company in the world.

Clearly Buffett isn’t swayed by false reports about Apple’s impending doom, not is former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, who sites on Berkshire Hathaway’s board. In a recent interview, Gates referred to Apple as an “amazing” company.

While this may seem surprising to you, the fact of the matter is that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, though fierce competitors, apparently had a warm personal relationship in the former’s final years. I recall one Macworld keynote in which Jobs casually mentioned having dinner with Gates. There were also those joint public appearances, where you can see, by the photos of both on stage, that they really liked each other.

Yes, it’s possible to keep your friends even if they run a rival company.

In any case, news of big holdings by Berkshire Hathaway aren’t new; the large increase is, and no doubt it’s because the stock was undervalued and they took advantage of a good deal. More to the point, Buffett clearly wasn’t impacted by the claims that Apple was in trouble, that it couldn’t move enough iPhones.

Consider the December quarter, where the iPhone X took one-third of the profits of the entire market. How can that happen with a product people are rejecting in droves because it’s too expensive? How does the average price of a new iPhone increase when there are problems moving the most expensive model? How come eight of the ten most popular smartphones on the planet bear the iPhone label?

Obviously, the smartphone market is saturated, and total sales actually decreased — except for Apple and a few other companies. It’s not unlikely that, over the next few years, growth in iPhones will stall again, as they did in 2016. But that doesn’t mean sales of the Apple Watch will stall, or that Apple’s services will suffer.

Or that there aren’t other products in the pipeline that will become ascendant. Or even that Apple won’t invent new iPhone, iPad and Mac variants or successors that will help spur Apple’s ongoing growth. But even if revenue and profits increase only incrementally in the years to come, we’re talking here about an incredibly successful multinational corporation that’s having a great run. There need be no apologies for what Tim Cook and crew have accomplished on a year-over-year basis.

Remember, over 20 years ago, the late Steve Jobs, soon to be joined by Cook, were busy salvaging a company that was bleeding red ink and was only weeks away from ruin. And over all those years, the critics were still actively claiming it was all a fluke, that Apple was destined to fail any time now.

Don’t forget what the boy cried.