On Friday, as the iPhone 5 was unleashed worldwide, Apple set a new record high of $705.07, before easing to close at $700.09.
The Cupertino, Calif., electronics company, while costing plenty for a single share, is still priced reasonably compared to expected earnings. Its price-earnings ratio is only 16.5, compared with 15 for International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM) and 21.72 for arch-rival Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), the Android proprietor.
Like Apple, Google’s also a member of tiny club of companies including Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE: BRK/A) and Seaboard Corp. (NYSE: SEB) that sell for more than $700.
Analysts are bullish on Apple. As of Friday the highest target price was $1,111, published by Topeka Capital’s Brian White. So perhaps it’s still a good buy, despite the current level as well as bitter rivalry with Samsung Electronics (Seoul: 005930).
Why not buy shares of Apple suppliers, contract manufacturers or partners? Here are five random suggestions:
ARM Holdings (Nasdaq: ARMH). As part of Apple’s “think different” strategy, it’s long developed microprocessors far afield. British developer ARM Holdings designs the central A6 processor for the iPhone 5.
ARM Holdings, though, like many chip companies, doesn’t manufacture its designs. ARM’s American Depositary Receipts closed Friday at $28.20, and have a P/E of a pricey 56. Shares have been flat for a year, despite the huge successes of the iPhone 4S and the iPad family.
Peter Misek, an analyst with Jefferies, believes ARM sells each A6 chip for $22. Steven Milunovich, analyst with UBS, believes the British designer than gets another 50 cents in royalty income.
Apple sold 26 million iPhones and 17 million iPads in its most recent quarter. All have ARM’s older-model A5 processor inside.
Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM). The biggest U.S. designer of chips solely for mobile phones, San Diego-based Qualcomm supplies the long-term evolution (LTE) MDM 9615 modem and transceiver for the iPhone 5; moreover, its Snapdragon chips have been designed into new Windows 8 phones from Finland’s Nokia Oyj (NYSE: NOK) and Samsung.
A Qualcomm buy is a play on developing mobile markets in iOS, Android and Windows. Shares closed Friday at $64.26, and have increased 18 percent this year. The chip designer’s P/E is 21.67.
Sprint-Nextel Corp. (NYSE: S). The No. 3 U.S. wireless carrier was the last U.S. major to get the iPhone, in last year’s fourth quarter, when it said it would spend $15.5 billion to carry the product for the next few years. It sold $4 billion worth of bonds last November and another $2 billion in February and last month said it would sell more to keep building its LTE network.
The Kansas City, Kan., carrier’s shares closed the week at $5.65, near their yearly high, and have more than doubled this year.
Sprint’s unlimited data plan may be a compelling buy for new customers who don’t want to pay new surcharges imposed by Apple’s other partners, headed by AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), the No. 1 telecommunications carrier, and Verizon Wireless, a unit of Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ), the No. 1 wireless carrier.
Shares of Verizon closed at $45.87 and have a P/E of 45.7, while AT&T shares closed at $38.34 and have a P/E of nearly 51. In the past, analysts suggested Apple, which had more than $117 billion in cash and investments last quarter, might acquire Sprint, whose value is $16.9 billion, which hasn’t reported net income since 2008.
Jabil Circuit Inc. (NYSE: JBL). Much has been made of Apple’s reliance upon Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision Industries (Taipei: 2317) (aka Foxconn) and the abusive conditions at its factories in China. Jabil, based in St. Petersburg, Fla., is also a major Apple supplier for glass and mechanical insertion.
Jabil shares, which closed at $21.55, have a P/E of 10.8, and have gained 10 percent this year. To be sure, Jabil’s fate is also tied to those of its other PC and electronics suppliers. Like the other U.S. contract manufacturers, it operates Chinese factories that haven’t been subjects of controversy.
Corning Inc. (NYSE: GLW). Corning’s Gorilla Glass 2 is in every iPhone 5 as well as in many other mobile products and computers because it’s durable and well-designed. Apple’s late chairman, Steve Jobs, worked out the supply arrangement with the venerable glass specialist in Corning, N.Y.
Long out of the Pyrex and home cooking business, Corning devotes all its expertise to advanced fiber optics and products like Gorilla Glass. Shares closed at $13.23, and carry a P/E of only 9. They’ve advanced about 2 percent in 2012.