Apple investors marking time, awaiting watch pricing news

Yahoo Finance

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks during an Apple event in San Francisco

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Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks during an Apple event in San Francisco, California March 9, 2015. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith (UNITED STATES – Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY BUSINESS)

Apple (AAPL) CEO Tim Cook kicked off the festivities for the Apple watch on Monday by talking instead about the company’s successful television and mobile phone products. Cook’s formidable challenge will be enticing many millions of people to buy the new Apple smartwatch this year, after fewer than 5 million bought similar devices from competitors like Samsung and Motorola last year.

Cook’s first big reveal was a new HBO service on Apple TV that won’t require a separate cable subscription. The much anticipated service, called HBO Now, initially will be exclusive to Apple starting in early April for $14.99 per month, HBO CEO Richard Pepler said in an appearance at the event.

Cook said Apple would cut the price of its Apple TV box by $30 to $69. But, at least initially, he didn’t offer a clue about the question investors want answered most: How much will the new watches cost? Apple typically unveils prices and pre-order dates for new products toward the end of its major events.

That left Apple’s share price in a holding pattern as the company’s showcase event in San Francisco went on. In the middle of the event, the shares, already up 16% this year, were up 1% initially to $127.69.

Apple had disclosed the entry-level watch price of $350 back in September, but left analysts and experts guessing about pricing for the rest of the line. Speculation about the high-end gold edition came fast and  furious over the past few weeks, after reports it would exceed the $4,000 cost of Apple’s most expensive computer.

Guesses ranged from Citicorp analyst Jim Suva’s $950 at the low end to Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster picking $4,999 to longtime Apple watcher and blogger John Gruber’s target of $9,999. Competitors like Samsung, Pebble and Motorola have kept prices much lower, charging $100 to $400 for most models.

Apple investors also remain divided over just how many watches consumers are likely to buy. Manufacturers shipped just 4.6 million smartwatches and wearable bands worldwide last year, including 720,000 watches running Google’s (GOOGL) Android Wear and 1 million of Xiaomi’s low-priced Mi fitness bands, according to Canalys.

Most analysts expect Apple will sell 15 million to 20 million watches at an average price of $350 to $400. For a company that had $200 billion of revenue last year, the potential for another $8 billion is a modest increase. But watch sales estimates range from as low as 6 million to 8 million to as high as 35 million to 40 million.