Apple shares hit record after Warren Buffett increases investment

VIDEO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - Apple shares hit a record after Warren Buffett told CNBC he bought an additional 75 million shares of the iPhone maker in the first quarter.

The Apple purchase, costing between US$11 billion and US$14 billion (S$14 billion and S$18 billion), adds to the almost 170 million shares that Buffett-run Berkshire Hathaway owned at the end of 2017, when it was already his biggest shareholding.

Just days before Buffett disclosed the larger stake, Apple reported quarterly results that topped analysts' estimates on surging services revenue and stable iPhone performance.

The numbers helped end a recent swoon in Apple stock on concern its flagship iPhone X model wasn't selling as well as Wall Street originally hoped.

"It is an unbelievable company," Buffett said in the CNBC interview. Berkshire Hathaway is holding its annual meeting this weekend in Omaha, Nebraska. Buffett said the company's exact holdings will be disclosed in a quarterly regulatory filing on Saturday.

Apple shares rose as much as 4 per cent to a record US$183.87 on Friday (May 4). That valued the Cupertino, California-based company at more than US$900 billion. The stock is up about 8 per cent so far this year and is having its best week since 2011.

Buffett is relatively new to technology investing, having avoided the sector for most of his long career. However, as the industry has grown into a more important part of the economy, the Berkshire chairman has built a limited number of positions, with mixed results so far.

Buffett plowed more than US$10 billion into International Business Machines in 2011. Shares of the corporate software giant have gone nowhere since the beginning of that year. He recently sold the position and said his thesis on IBM was flawed. His Apple investment has performed better, but Buffett has also said he missed out on investing in Google and Amazon.com.

Apple chief executive officer Tim Cook told CNBC he was "thrilled" to have Buffett and Berkshire as a major investor.

"I've always greatly admired Warren and have always been grateful for his insight and advice," Cook added.

While Apple still gets more than 60 per cent of its revenue from iPhones, services are playing an increasingly important role as growth in the overall smartphone market slows.

Cook sells a growing array of services through a base of more than 1.3 billion Apple devices, including music, cloud storage, movies and apps. Revenue from services surged 31 per cent to a record US$9.2 billion in the most recent quarter.

An Apple Music subscription costs US$10 a month (unless it's on a family plan), and the number of paying users recently hit 40 million. The company now has 270 million paid subscribers across applications and its own services, up by 100 million from the same period a year ago.

Just over 60 per cent of Apple analysts rate the stock a buy and the rest have hold recommendations. The average analyst price target from the past three months is US$194.77, suggesting a 6 per cent potential return in the next year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.