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Trading Apple Ahead of an iPhone Launch Event: What History Tells Us

sim cardsApple (AAPL - Get Report) is set to unveil a trio of new phones on Tuesday, according to the rumor mill, the ninth year in a row the company has held a fall iPhone launch event. Despite the media buzz surrounding these events, the trading of an iPhone event, either the day of, or during a three-day window around the event, is a rather dull affair.

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The average return in each of the prior eight years if you bought the stock the day of the event and held it till the day after, is just a half a percent. And the rise from the day before the event to the day after is an even-less exuberant one-fifth of one percent.
The distribution of the increases and decreases has great variance from year to year, and there are at this point too few data points to make a substantial prediction, other than to say that the biggest returns are when Apple clearly changes the "form-factor," or the shape and size, of the iPhone. But even that is not as meaningful anymore.
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The two best years were 2012's introduction of the iPhone 5, which broke with the dimensions of all prior iPhones by employing a longer, narrower, case, and 2014, when the company came back swinging, with the first-ever large-screen iPhone, the iPhone 6.

In 2012, Apple saw a 1.97% two-day increase, and the three-day return around the September 12 date was an even better 3.39%. Meanwhile, 2014's event, which was also when Apple introduced the first Apple Watch, was a gala affair, with massive amounts of catering and special buzz created by the fact the venue was the same venue in which Steve Jobs held the original unveiling of the first Mac decades earlier, the De Anza College in Cupertino. That year's event on Sept. 9 saw a two-day return of 3.1% and a three-day return of 2.68%.
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Since then, the average two- and three-day returns have been modest at 0.69% and 0.56%, respectively, but within that there was 2016's drop of 2.6% over two days, when the iPhone 7 in a slick black finish failed to really get the heart racing. And 2017's unveiling of the iPhone X actually prompted a 1% sell-off over three days. Meanwhile, last year's re-tread of the X brand prompted gains of 2.4% and 1.14% over the two- and three-day periods, respectively.

These muted returns match the anecdotal perception that the fall unveiling has become a ritual whose buzz is anticipated with leaks for months beforehand. The company's smoothing of the selling process for iPhones by selling them online and via carriers, moreover, has robbed the event of the long, long lines outside Apple stores that were a hallmark of an iPhone's first-day of sales. These launches created a sense of a happening, a coming together of the rabid gear-heads and the Apple Faithful.

If these slim data points are any indication, the trade from Monday through Wednesday will be an un unremarkable one. Apple is widely reported to be holding off until next year to introduce the one capability that is seen as a big new feature for hardware these days -- 5G cellular radio connections (folding glass is another matter, and it doesn't look like Apple's going the route Samsung (SSNLF) has gone with its Galaxy Fold phone, which finally went on sale last week.)
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So Tuesday will feature some updated electronics for the iPhone X family of devices, maybe some new colors and case finishes. Nothing to really get the pulse racing.

Take heart, though -- the period of greatest return in the stock can often be the year between September events, as anticipation of a better September stokes the shares for much of the subsequent 12-month period. Apple's stock has, on average, risen 25% from the day of the event till one year later. Again, that small set of data points has wide variance, as Apple's stock has risen just 2.8% over the past twelve months, perhaps partly out of a sense that Tuesday's event will be underwhelming.
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So, maybe 2020 is the cycle to bet on, and perhaps you'll see a healthy return if you buy on Tuesday and just sit tight.

Apple shares rose 0.4% to $214.17 on Monday and were down slightly in pre-market trading on Tuesday. The stock is up 36% this year.
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asked Sep 23, 2019 by ArdenMcRober (100 points)

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