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What Apple Should Do to Reclaim Star Status

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MoneyShow's Jim Jubak details how the tech giant can bounce back.

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So exactly why are Wall Street's knickers in such a twist over Apple's first-quarter fiscal 2013 earnings reported Wednesday?

Make no mistake -- they are in a twist. The stock closed down $63.51 per share Thursday. That's a lot even for a $500 per share stock. The loss amounted to a drop of 12.4% for the day.

Apple's crimes?

No year-to-year earnings growth in the quarter. Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) reported earnings for the quarter of $13.81. Although that was $.26 per share better than the Wall Street consensus, it was still below the $14.03 per share the company reported in the first quarter of fiscal 2012 back in January 2012.

Lowered guidance for the second quarter of fiscal 2013. The company told Wall Street to expect revenue for the quarter of $41 billion to $43 billion against the $45.94 billion Wall Street consensus. Gross margin for the quarter would be 37.5% to 38.5% instead of the 40.5% Wall Street expects.

And most important of all, a lack of catalysts to make investors want to buy the stock.

Why do I call this "most important"? When a stock is as widely owned as Apple was (before the announcement), a company needs to generate huge excitement to bring more money into the shares. Apple needed a Next Big Thing and instead what investors and analysts got was business as usual. Apple did sell a record 47.8 million iPhones in the quarter, but-ho hum-that was below recent analyst estimates of 48 million (which were indeed below estimates back in the fall of 50 million or 52 million).

This lack of a Next Big Thing is indeed the common element in much of the analyst commentary. Sure, the analyst reports worried about increased competition from Samsung (PINK:SSNLF) and other makers of Android (NASDAQ:GOOG) phones, or about supply chain shortages that cut into sales of Macintosh computers, or Apple's failure to take more market share in China and India.

None of that would have mattered if Apple CEO Tim Cook had unleashed an Apple TV or something. Absent that, analysts were left with their worries and advice that just about begged Apple to behave like a regular company and sacrifice some of its extraordinary margins in order to build a cheaper phone or tablet so that the company could grab market share.

Absent either the Next Big Thing or Apple's decision to become a regular company, many analysts said they can't see Apple as a growth stock any more. The stock will start to climb again only after growth investors finish selling and value investors adopt the shares, more than one wrote.

Frankly, I think this is rubbish. The Wall Street consensus is now looking for Apple to grow earnings by 9.74% in the fiscal year that ends in September 2013. (And by 17.7% in the fiscal year that ends in September 2014.)

Which doesn't make Apple a value stock. Apple remains what it was before this earnings announcement: an extraordinarily cheap growth stock. Before the news, when Apple sold at $514 per share, it traded at 11.6 times 12-month trailing earnings (for the four quarters that ended with the first quarter of fiscal 2013 reported Wednesday). After Thursday's slaughter, it traded at 10.1 times trailing 12-month earnings. Subtract out the roughly $145 in cash per share that the company had at the end of December ($137 billion in all) and you're looking at price to earnings ratios of 8.1 pre-announcement and 7.1 after Thursday's decline. That's cheap even if Apple is only going to grow earnings by 9.74% in fiscal 2013.
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No positions in stocks mentioned.
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