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What Do We Really Expect From Apple’s Earnings?

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What Do We Really Expect From Apple's Earnings?

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) will release its quarterly earnings report some time after the market closes this afternoon. In anticipation of the numbers financial observers, investors, and even people with no skin in the game, will be spamming the refresh button on their keyboards.

Apple’s earnings reports have started to take on the quasi-religious characteristics of the company’s conferences and product launches. The religiosity that now infuses earnings reports from the firm confuses expectations. Apple is a firm like no other, and it appears impossible to read the company’s value like any other.

After Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) made public its incredible numbers from the last quarter, there was an initial surge in the price of the stock. Leading up to the release of the figures, the company’s stock had been sliding for days, falling to a low of 560 on April 23rd. Apple’s incredible performance in the quarter precipitated a reprieve of a single day.

Today the company’s shares are lower than they were on April 25th. The stock has been selling for over 600 throughout most of July. In the two months previous the shares value failed to breach that barrier, despite the upcoming launch of an updated iPhone, and the rumored launch of at least one new product line in the next twelve months.

The company still trades at a multiple that factors in little, if any, expected growth in revenues and profits. This is despite the reports from virtually all of the analysts studying the company that suggest the company will grow exponentially in the coming year, and years.

So if, as in April, blowout earnings that race ahead of all estimates are not enough to boost the firm’s stock price, what is the mystery surrounding the poor performance of the equity? The answer, despite the multiples explication of the contrary, is expectations.

At the firm’s latest WWDC, several updates were announced to existing products, and one truly new product was launched, the Retina MacBook Pro. Each update showed a clear and definite strategy, one of bringing the company’s product lines together in order to increase the “halo effect”, and therefore sales.

It had little effect on the stock price. The surge ahead in the strategy was denoted as hum drum by most in the price, and was clearly not all that well received by Wall Street. The level of expectation put on Apple means that the kind of indicators that would be upsides for other firms, simply have no effect.

Put simply, in product design we expect too much from the company. If it’s not revolutionary, it’s not good enough. The same might be said for the firm’s financials. Traders ridiculously high expectations have widened to cover the company’s earnings reports as well.

This may be the natural evolution of things. Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) still sits on the frontier of value. The company is still almost 50% more valuable than the second biggest firm, Exxon Mobil Corporation (NYSE:XOM). At the very edge of existence, distant from all others, it takes a huge push to go further.

That huge push probably will not come in this earnings report. The religious feeling surrounding the announcement has created expectations that the company will find it extremely difficult to live up to using the powers of accounting.

If the board of the company put as their highest priority the raising of the share price, there are some ways in which that could be achieved. Those methods belie the kinds of expectations we really have about Apple, even in their financial statements.

Tim Cook could let slip the development of an Apple Television in the conference call. The same could be said for any new product line, or a slip about upcoming features in the iPhone 5, or the iPad.

Financially Apple is doing everything right. Investors are no longer satisfied with simply that. People want surprise and drama from Apple, and looking at the way the share price has languished in the last three months, investors feel they are completely entitled to that drama. Without it the market is slow to make any decisive move on the company.

Apple’s executives are probably not most concerned with the firm’s share price. They are concerned with adding real value to the company. Financial reports are usually devoid of drama, unless of course they reveal fraud, or a massive loss.

Apple is unlikely to be a victim to either of those caveats. They will release a solid financial report, almost certainly beating their own guidance numbers, and probably at least meeting Wall Street’s expectations. That will still probably not be enough for investors, but it’s their loss.

Apple is the world’s most valuable company. It has reached a plateau in the growth of nominal value, because of the cult that surrounds it. Real value is still there, and it is still growing.

With expectations so high any other firm could not help but fail, Apple is destined to be considered acceptable.



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Paul Shea

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