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Shares crushed after company’s sales outlook is cut

There was little love for Apple on Thursday as the company woke up to face the aftermath of what one analyst called the “darkest day” of the iPhone era.

Apple’s shares fell by more than 9 percent, to $143.42, in the wake of the company’s stunning announcement Wednesday that it foresees its fiscal first-quarter revenue falling far short of its previous expectations. Apple said it expects sales for the quarter that ended Dec. 29 to come in at $84 billion, down from an earlier estimate of $89 billion to $93 billion, and blamed the shortfall on weaker-than-expected demand for new iPhones and a slowdown in its business in China.

“In the modern iPhone era, last night was clearly Apple’s darkest day,” said Dan Ives, director of equity research at Wedbush Securites. “(It) represents a challenging growth period ahead for the company.”

In a letter to Apple shareholders, CEO Tim Cook wasted little time in placing the blame for the company’s bad news.

“Lower than anticipated iPhone revenue, primarily in greater China, accounts for all of our revenue shortfall to our guidance and for much more than our entire year-over-year revenue decline,” he said.

Ives called China “Apple’s Achilles heel,” and he used Apple’s update to slash his price target on the company’s stock to $200 a share from $275.

Apple had already been in hot water with investors for the past two months; in early November, the company said that it would no longer report quarterly unit sales figures for iPhones, iPads and Mac computers. Many interpreted that decision as a sign that Apple was seeing less-than-stellar demand for its line of new iPhones, which includes the iPhone XS, the iPhone XS Max and the iPhone XR.

Ives wasn’t alone in his sentiment about Apple’s stock outlook following the company’s negative report. Piper Jaffray analyst Michael Olson cut his price target on Apple’s shares to $187 from $222; Tim Acuri, of UBS, lowered his estimate for Apple’s stock price to $180 a share from $210.

Arcuri said he thinks Apple shortfall is mainly due to weak sales of the iPhone XR, which starts at $749. While Apple won’t report iPhone sales figures, Arcuri said Apple’s sales forecast implies a 15 percent year-over-year drop in iPhone revenue, which he called “the worst (calendar fourth quarter decline) for iPhone (sales) by far.”

However, not all Apple watchers were ready to throw in the towel on the company.

“It’s understandable that investors are piecing together what went wrong and its impact on the business longer-term,” said Gene Munster, managing partner at Loup Ventures. “But we think there is a larger point that’s being missed.”

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