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China’s ban on iPhone signals concerns to investors

Andy Masuo
atmtx | Flickr

China banned the use of iPhones among government officials, signaling a move to limit Apple Inc.’s presence and elevating worry among investors.

Soon after the announcement, shares of Apple plummeted 6.8%, causing the company to incur losses of $200 billion in market capitalization over two days.

Despite the ban only affecting less than 1% of the Chinese population, investors shared concern over a possible domino effect that may underpin sales following the company’s release of the iPhone 15 on Sept. 12.

“Is there something that’s going to happen next in terms of the Chinese consumer being able to buy Apple devices?” Mark Gurman, chief technology correspondent for Bloomberg, said. “Are there going to be limits there? Is the Chinese government going to begin clamping down on Apple’s ability to sell, offer services, offer retail stores, offer Apple care and support? Right. So there clearly is a potential domino effect I think investors are more afraid of rather than just lost sales to Chinese government workers.”

China is home to 156 production facilities used by Apple, equating to over 90% of Apple’s product sourcing — with the Taiwan-based Foxconn Technology Group, China’s largest private employer and exporter, being Apple’s largest supplier, according to Apple’s supplier list for 2022.

Huawei Technologies is a Chinese-based technology company known for its lines of phones, with a market share of 23.45% compared to Apple’s 22.77% market share.

Huawei started presales for its new Mate 60 Pro+ smartphone on Sept. 8, leaving investors to suspect a strategic move by the Chinese government to turn inward.

“Well, I think what you’re watching is a carefully structured launch by the Chinese,” Art Cashin, director of floor operations at UBS Financial Services, said on an episode of CNBC’s Squawk on the Street. “I think that it’s not an accident that all this stuff about potentially boycotting Apple products comes out at just a time when the Huawei phone comes out. I think they scheduled it for the release of the Huawei phone to get the kind of headlines they needed and I’m not sure it’s a full declaration of war, but I do think it’s the means of the Chinese officials to say ‘we up the ante.’”

However, Dan Ives, a senior equity analyst at Wedbush Securities, told Bloomberg that the ban is overblown and would not affect Apple as much as other investors believe because the iPhone 15 Pro is the “gold standard” compared to other phones and Apple CEO Tim Cook is a tactician in diplomatic relations.

Cook frequently visits China to meet foreign business executives and listen to the concerns of the Chinese government regarding censorship and data security.

Apple began diversifying its supply chain manufacturers during the pandemic, with the production of products shifting to India and other countries in Asia and establishing goals of having India produce 25% of all iPhones by 2025.

Morgan Stanley analysts agree with Ives on the ban being overblown, citing the co-dependence between China and Apple as reasoning for the restrictions not broadening, leading to the “worst-case scenario.”

“Said differently, while China is critical to Apple’s success, Apple is also critical to the Chinese economy,” analysts wrote in a note reported by AppleInsider. “And therefore, while the potential for a broad decoupling between Apple and China in this multipolar world clearly exists, we don’t believe recent headlines are necessarily foreshadowing this ‘worst case’ scenario.”

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