Was Apple sweeping its bad news away during Hurricane Sandy?

Karen Haslam
3 November, 2012
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Some reports are suggesting that Apple attempted to bury the announcement of Scott Forstall and John Browett exit from Apple by releasing it just as Hurricane Sandy was due to hit New York. The fact that the New York Stock Exchange was closed, and expected to remain closed, hasn’t gone unnoticed. As a result Wall Street reaction will be delayed. Giving any negative reaction a chance to blow over (pun intended).

AllThingsD claims that its sources at Apple have confirmed that Apple always planned to release the news on Monday, however.

It makes some sense that Apple would want the reaction to its financial results announcement last Thursday to subside prior to making the announcement about Forstall and Browett, and also that the company wouldn’t have wanted to make the reorganization announcement during the financial results conference call where analysts would have been able to question the move.

Either way, it may be lucky for Apple that the Stock Exchange is closed, stopping its share price taking any more of a battering. Apple’s share price dropped to US$604 following news of it’s financial results combined with reaction to the price of the iPad mini, felt by some to be too high. (During the same day stock fell below US$600 to $591 for the first time in three months).

Apple hit an all-time-high of US$705.07 during the days trading on September 21, the day the iPhone 5 launched.

There are a number of potential reasons why investors reacted to Apple financial news negatively, causing the share price to decline so dramatically. However, analysts are suggesting that the reaction may have been an over reaction for the following reasons.

1) Apple’s declining Gross Margins

One reason for the decline in value is thought to be reaction to Apple CEO Tim Cook’s announcement that Gross Margin (a measure of how efficiently a company turns sales into profits) for the December quarter would be lower than it has been.  Fortune notes that GM in Q2 2012 was 47.4 percent and GM for Q4 2012 was 40 percent, but that Apple expects a lower GM of 36 percent in the December quarter. According to Fortunes report: “The last time Apple reported a gross margin that low was 2008.”

The decline in gross margin is said to be due to the iPhone overhaul. Deutsche Bank analyst Chris Whitmore thinks that the company will recover over the next couple of quarters: “Apple’s overall margins (and our estimate for iPhone margins) stepped down momentarily after the launch of iPhone 4 until reaching new highs ~4 quarters following its release. We suspect a similar margin dynamic will evolve for iPhone 5 as it ramps to full volume production over the next 3-6 months,” he said, notes Fortune.

As a result Whitmore thinks that now is a good time to buy Apple.

Asymco analyst Horace Dediu also notes that Apple’s gross margins have been on the rise since 2006, but, like Whitmore, he notes that: “The growth is not monotonic. There are occasional dips in gross margins. The cause is the launch of new device versions.”

“The general pattern is clear: each new version of the iPhone causes a dip in gross margins,” he writes.

Also fixated on Apple’s gross margin guidance, Berenberg Bank’s Adnaan Ahmad is less positive. He states: “As we have stated before on many occasions, Apple’s time to turn from a tech titan into a dinosaur will come, but we still think that we are at least a year away,” notes Fortune in a separate report.

That said, he still recommends that Apple is a stock to own, notes the report. “If you want to play the volume theme, you would play Apple, Samsung and ARM, all of which we rate as Buys,” he says.

2) Little troubles in big China

Another Fortune article notes that China may be one reason why Apple didn’t beat Wall Street expectations for its earnings this quarter ($8.67 vs. $8.75).

Faizal Kara, a member of the Braeburn Group of independent analysts, has noted that the Chinese yuan may be to blame.

Kara notes that Apple’s operating income and expenditures for quarter four were negative. As COO Peter Oppenheimer explained during the conference call with analysts: “OI&E was a net expense to $51 million. The interest income and investment gains were more than offset by higher-than-expected currency hedging expense.”

The Fortune report speculates that Apple is particularly susceptible to currency fluctuations “because it has $83 billion in cash sitting in foreign accounts – more, I’d wager, than any other US company”. The report suggest that some of that money is “parked” in China. “On Thursday, it hit 6.2417 yuan per dollar, its best level in 19 years. A rise like that can wreak havock with the best-laid currency hedging plans,” notes the report.

To buy or not to buy Apple?

Some Apple analysts including Morgan Stanley’s Katy Huberty and Topeka’s Brian White recommend that now is a good time to buy Apple.

Many others such as Goldman Sachs’ Bill Shope, Barclay’s Ben Reitzes and Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster have lowered their price target (in Shope’s case from US$810 to $760, in Munster’s case US$910 to $900, in Reitzen’s case US$810 to $800). Whitmore has also lowered his price target to US$800 from $850, according to Fortune’s report.

Whatever the next year brings, it looks likely that Apple has room to grow from the current share price levels, so, once Sandy blows over it may well be a good time to buy.

One Comment

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  1. Gazbin III says:

    iOS based product isn’t under threat by Microsoft Windows 8 that’s for sure. Even if the mobile market gets more competition from Android, Apple can continue to grow a lot of their product volume by claiming former Windows PC / laptop territory. From looking at the Win 8 Apps list the support by developers is extremely weak so Microsoft is going to give Apple a lot of market over the next few years!

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