Does Apple Inc’s Electric Car Make It a Must-Buy Share?

Apple Inc (NASDAQ: AAPL) is renowned for changing the way technology works, and it’s often said that the company forces change at a far quicker pace than the rest of the industry would move. If it wasn’t for Apple, for example, we’d have been stuck with those nasty floppy disk things for a lot longer.

The latest rumour is that Apple is set to do away with the venerable headphone jack socket, which has been with us in one form or another since the late nineteenth century (and rose to ubiquity starting with those early manual telephone exchanges). There’s a petition to keep the old ways, but I reckon that if Apple changes it, the change will stick.

It would be foolish, then, to ignore the talk surrounding the much-rumoured Apple electric car.

Apple vs Tesla?

The latest comes from Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motors, in an interview with the BBC. Tesla is one of the few companies currently selling electric car models in significant numbers, but they’re still quite a bit more expensive than petrol models and Tesla is running at a loss.

But we’re still in very early days and Mr Musk is confident that Apple really is working on its own competitor. Apple has registered a number of car-related internet names, though it would most likely do that anyway to stop others sitting on them. But more concrete evidence comes from Mr Musk’s claim that some of Tesla’s engineers have recently been lured away by other companies, including Apple.

When I think about major technological advances like this, I’m always reminded of Warren Buffett’s point that the early pioneers are rarely the ones who take the mass-market and clean up the profits. And I think that counts in Apple’s favour. Apple will take the time needed to get it right and it won’t be dependent on immediate profits, as it’s already massively profitable and is sitting on huge amounts of cash.

Profits climbing

In fact, for its 2015 fourth quarter, Apple reported a net profit of $11.1bn from revenue of $51.5bn, with a gross margin of 39.9% (against $8.5bn profit from $42.1bn revenue in the same quarter a year previously, with a gross margin of 38%).

For the upcoming first quarter of 2016, the firm is expecting revenue between $75.5bn and $77.5bn, with a gross margin of between 39% and 40%. Does that make Apple shares a bargain?

Well, the shares’ recent five-year rise of 98% has fallen back a bit. We’re looking at a loss of 10% in the past 12 months, to $98.50. And that gives us a P/E of only around 11, which I see as very low. Sure, the dividend is only yielding around 2.2% at the moment, but that’s pretty certain to rise in the coming years.

Time to buy?

I reckon Apple is a pretty good buy at today’s price, and that’s true even with just the company’s current range of products. But a successful entry into the electric car market could turn it into a worldbeater in yet another market, even if it is a careful longer-term project.

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Alan Oscroft has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK owns shares of and has recommended Apple. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.