Apple’s 1Q13 results were largely in-line with my expectations.
While I was pleased with the quarter, my estimates were considered somewhat bearish compared to the crowd; so needless to say, there were more disappointed faces than smiles. Apple reported healthy growth metrics for iPhone and iPad, while iPhone ASP remained strong and iPad ASP declined due to the iPad mini.
Management altered the way guidance is presented. While the reasoning was not disclosed, I don’t think its much of a stretch to assume its management’s way of ending analysts’ nasty habit of severely overestimating guidance. When Apple’s earnings report was initially released, the stock was trading in the $490-$495 range. Guidance seemed to be of Apple’s conservative nature - in that case, guidance was O.K. When Apple clarified that it would no longer give EPS guidance, but instead release ranges (including upper limits) for several line-items used to reach EPS, the stock quickly fell to the $460-$465 range as guidance was considered NOT O.K. (it can be debated what management meant by guidance ranges, but I am assuming Apple’s actual results will fall within these ranges).
I didn’t find Apple’s 2Q13 guidance (with the new ranges) to be overly concerning. Going into the quarter, I knew 2Q13 was going to be tough due to difficult year-over-year comparisons to 2Q12. Judging from the stock’s decline, I guess I was in the minority.
Did Anything Actually Change?
Taking a step back from all of the earnings noise, I didn’t learn much new about Apple. Both iPhone and iPad unit growth is slowing, margin remains pressured due to newer products, and EPS growth will be difficult to achieve in 2013. Minor details such as the iPhone 4 remaining supply-constrained (most likely due to limited resources and parts allocated to iPhone 4 production), iPad mini coming into supply/demand balance by the end of this quarter, and the mix between new and old iPhones remaining constant weren’t exactly market-moving data points.
It is interesting to read the differing opinions on Apple’s quarter between the Valley’s reaction and that of Wall Street. In the Valley’s eyes, Apple did great and is firing on all cylinders, but according to Wall Street, AAPL stock is broken as growth is slowing. I think reality is somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.
AAPL has now been in a 4-month tailspin, including widespread shareholder rotation (meaning many of Apple’s shareholders as of the end of September are selling and being replaced by new shareholders). Such a rotation is often quite volatile, resulting in lower stock prices as the new shareholder base has different priorities and expectations for Apple (often of a lesser nature).
Back in January 2012, the consensus view on Apple was that EPS from iPhone and iPad would plateau around $60. An additional premium for Apple optionality (i.e. new products) may push EPS to $70. P/E multiple and dividend payout ratios were then calculated accordingly. Things certainly have changed. The consensus view is now of Apple EPS topping out around $40. It’s tough for a stock labeled as *the* momentum tech growth story to keep its luster when EPS expectations are cut by 30%. Of course, investors and traders love to panic and overreact, so not only is Apple’s EPS problematic, but Apple’s business model is apparently broken, management is clueless, and the company is the new Microsoft. It is what it is and I don’t see a reason to fight it.
Investors buying AAPL today (or for that matter - the past year) should not be buying it on iPhone and iPad predictions, but rather Apple’s ability to disrupt itself and introduce new product categories. Not surprisingly, when things are good and AAPL is up, everyone assumes Apple is in great shape. When AAPL is down, management is assumed to be inept; unable to innovate and remain relevant.
Looking ahead, I think it will be difficult for Apple to report EPS growth in 2Q13 and 3Q13, due to tough year-over-year comparisons related to margins. Modest growth should come back in 4Q13 and moving into 2014. I am assuming anyone with an earnings model is well aware of these trends, but judging from today’s stock price action, I may be too generous in my assumptions. Catalysts such as China Mobile selling the iPhone (not in my model) or new products are most likely not being contemplated by Wall Street and one can argue even if catalysts come to fruition, many will simply brush them off as a non-event. Just as funds had to own AAPL last year to beat certain performance benchmarks, many funds now have to sell AAPL because the stock is down.
Many are trying to find rational answers with AAPL’s price action, but since the following statements are often true, I’m not sure how many answers are actually out there:
A stock often goes up because it has been going up.
A stock often goes down because it has been going down.
A stock’s valuation matters only when valuations start to matter.
Fundamentals are important only when fundamentals become important.