Apple Inc. (AAPL) Flat Earnings Could Be Hurting Its Stock

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Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) shares declined 8% after its recent earnings reports as investors showed their disappointment. However, it posted its fourth highest quarterly earnings in its history. So why were investors so disappointed with Apple’s report? It may have had something to do with the miss on iPhone shipments, but Philip Elmer-DeWitt of Fortune suggests there’s probably something else also in play here.

Apple compared to oil and gas companies

He writes that a member of Investor Villages’ AAPL Sanity board sent him some data and asked why Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) shares declined after the company’s December quarter earnings report. He noted that the most recently completed quarter was the fifth time Apple returned more than $10 billion in earnings over the last three years. He also notes that oil and gas companies are the only other companies which rake in those types of earnings, and even they haven’t seen earnings of more than $10 billion in a quarter since 2011.

However, as Elmer-DeWitt’s chart shows, after adjusting for inflation, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s earnings have been flat year over year in the quarters when it has reported more than $10 billion in earnings. He believes investors have been looking for earnings growth, and the company just hasn’t been delivering.

Is Apple a growth stock?

For many years, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) was considered to be a growth stock, although it really isn’t any more, and the flat earnings illustrate just why. However, some have questioned whether Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) should still be a growth stock. UBS analysts called the company a stalled growth stock in December, and just last week, former Apple CEO John Sculley said the company could become a growth stock again—if it comes out with another innovation that was as game-changing as the iPod and iPhone were.

He thinks mobile payments are the key, but there’s no denying that this year will be critical for Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL). Investors got tired of waiting for new innovations in late 2012, even though they seem to be expecting innovation to occur at a faster pace than it did under Steve Jobs. If Apple doesn’t have anything new to offer this year, even more investors may get tired of waiting for that next big thing.

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