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Apple: The Good, the Bad, and the Really Rotten

The long awaited, much hyped Apple earnings report came out last night and offered a little something for everyone, particularly investors who've been arguing that the company has much bigger problems than a slumping stock price.

The Good

Apple (AAPL) reported earnings of $10.09 per share on revenues of $43.6 billion. Wall Street analysts had been looking for $10.07 on $42.3 billion in revenues. It was a slight beat of estimates that had fallen nearly 14% in the last month.

The Bad

* For the current fiscal period Apple lowered its revenue forecast to between $33.5 and $35.5 billion, well below the Street's estimate of $38.2b. In the same quarter in 2012, Apple booked $35b in sales and earned $9.32 per share.

* Gross margins also missed expectations at 37.5%, compared to expectations of 38.5%. In the same quarter last year, Apple's gross margin was 47.4%. The company says it expects margins in the current quarter to be between 36 and 37% compared to 43% in the quarter ending June 29 of 2012.

* Splitting the middle on revenue and gross margin guidance, Apple would gross profit of $12.6 billion vs. $15 billion last year. Unless the company finds a score of ways to cut expenses -- and they don't seem to have any plans to do so -- net income would come in somewhere near $7.5b or a drop of 15 - 16%, year over year. Assuming the number of share outstanding remains constant (a generous assumption), Apple would earn in the vicinity of $8 per share in the current quarter, compared to $9.30 last year.

The average analyst estimate for this quarter is $9.08. Expect that number to fall in earnest -- if not this morning, very soon. Apple is now running well below results that would get the company anywhere near the average estimate of $43.66.

* The company has spent $2.1b on R&D over the last 6 months, putting it on pace to spend around $4.2B for the year. To be generous, we'll say Apple's expected R&D expenditures are about 2.5% of revenues. To compare, the percentage of revenues used for R&D at Microsoft (MSFT), and Samsung are about 11% and 6% respectively.

Despite the questions raised by this underinvestment in new products, Apple stubbornly refuses to discuss timing on new product roll-outs. "Our teams are hard at work on some amazing new hardware and services we can't wait introduce this fall and throughout 2014," CEO Tim Cook said vaguely on last night's conference call.

Pressed further, Cook said "I don't want to be more specific, but I'm just saying we've got some really great stuff coming in the fall and all across 2014."

Cook's vague comments caused Apple shares to drop 5% by the end of the call, taking back all of its after hours gains. "It was very disappointing, I think it's time for Tim Cook to pass the baton," says Jeff Kilburg, founder & CEO of KKM Financial and a CNBC contributor, in the attached video. "I think the buyback was encouraging; at least they gave us something to bite on."

The Buyback

Apple also announced that it would be expanding its share buyback program from $10 billion to $60 billion and jacked its dividend by 15% to $3.05 a share. The company said it would be borrowing money to pay for the increased outlays. In doing so, it will be able to avoid paying a repatriation tax on the $102B of its $144B cash hoard being held overseas. Since Apple has the same debt rating as the U.S., borrowing money here is a smart play. On the other hand, using that cash for a buyback and token bump to the dividend yield is asinine.

Apple's existing buyback program was launched October 1st of last year. Since then, the company has spent $1.95B buying shares at an average cost of $478. The stock has fallen more than 40% since the buyback went live and shares purchased have lost 15% of their value.

In late February, Hedge Fund manager David Einhorn made the case that conventional buybacks and dividends are an inefficient use of shareholder money. Einhorn didnt just complain, he created an alternative he dubbed iPrefs and presented the idea in a rather compelling power point slideshow.

Cook dismissed Einhorns proposal as a silly sideshow then failed to even slightly deviate from the ancient and demonstrably futile Dividend/ Buyback combination so long favored by companies running low on ideas and creativity.

Regardless of what Apples stock does in the near term, yesterdays performance left little doubt that Cook is not only a pale imitation of Steve Jobs but a low-rent version of John Sculley.

Apple is now just a depressing reminder that the circle of life applies to all living things, even Apple.

“At the end of the day, they do make money, they are growing globally. It’s not sexy, they don’t have the product you want, but they are, I think, a little bit oversold here,” concludes Kilburg.

More stories on Apple:

Three Steps to Fixing Apple
Einhorn Alone Can't Save Apple
Apple's Chart is Broken; Deal With It