Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) may release a very disappointing earnings report on January 23 according to a new report from BTIG research. The report, which lowered expectations of the company’s performance, put a neutral rating on the stock. Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) has been flirting with stock prices of less than $500 today, on rumors that iPhone sales were lower than expected in the last three months of 2012.

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The report from BTIG suggests that Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) earnings per share for the quarter will come in at $14, just slightly ahead of the same quarter last year when the company reported earnings per share of $13.87. Revenue, according to the firm is likely to increase for the quarter by $2.2 billion, to $56.2 billion.

Other analysts have, in general, agreed with the estimates of this report. Because of lower sales in the last three months of 2012, analysts do not expect the firm to do much better than its performance in the last three quarters of 2011. The slow down in the company’s growth is worrying investors, and if it continues, perception of the company may change drastically.

The BTIG report suggested that Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) revenue will increase its revenue based on higher iPhone sales. The reports from earlier today suggest that those number will come in lower than they have in the past, reducing the company’s outlook for the coming report, and for the coming year.

The analyst who authored the report, Walter Piecyk, said that the Cupertino firm might be forced into compressing its product cycle in order to keep up with its competitors. Samsung is expected to release a new Galaxy premium smart phone in the first half of 2013. If Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) maintains its current cycle, it won’t release a competitor until late next year, that would mean falling even further behind Samsung.

According to Piecyk, if Apple were to shorten its upgrade cycle, and release a new iPhone every six months or so, it puts additional pressure on the components manufacturers. That means that the firm may not be able to produce enough units to meet demand, or will raise prices on those components.

Higher price components means that the firm will face a compressed gross margin. That margin is one of the attributes of the firm most frequently extolled by investors. If a permanent shock to that system was felt, it would result in many investors taking a second look at the company.

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) is facing problems right now. The competition facing the firm is tougher than ever, and the firm may have been beaten in the smart phone market for the first time last quarter. Apple is still fundamentally sound however, though its growth may be slowing going forward.

Apple investors, and almost everybody following the tech market will eagerly await the firm’s January 23 report. While the numbers are likely the most important indicator for investors going forward, the conference call following the report may be even more important. Tim Cook will need to impress in order to calm fears, if the numbers don’t add up.

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