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Apple Shares Slump Below $400 But This Isn’t Microsoft, Ritholtz Says

Apple’s (AAPL) stock has been in free-fall over the last few months, shedding 42% of its value after reaching an all-time high of $705.07 last September. Shares were falling hard again Thursday and could end the trading day below $400 a share -- the first time since December 2011. (Update: Apple shares closed down 2.6% at $392.18 after breaking $390 intraday. Nearly 23 million shares traded vs. the average of 17.4 million in the prior three months).

Wall Street analysts have also changed their tune on the iPhone maker. When the stock was exploding to new highs last year, analysts were clamoring to declare new price targets. One would be forgiven to assume a “who is the biggest Apple bull?" competition was taking place during this heady time.

Now, estimates have been reconfigured and reevaluated to reflect a grim reality: the company’s rapid hot growth is cooling, new product announcements are ebbing and Apple’s celebrated “cool” factor may be over. Some people are even comparing Apple to Microsoft, a once dominant tech titan whose shares have essentially been flat for the past decade and is currently suffering from falling PC sales and a poor reception for Windows 8.

Barry Ritholtz, CEO of Fusion IQ and author of The Big Picture blog, has been ringing the alarm bells about Apple stock for months. A self-described Apple fanboy, Ritholtz was warning that Apple could fall below $500 a share late last November (the stock was trading in the $571 range at the time) and has since lowered his forecast to $350 a share. Last October, Ritholtz started to unwind his clients’ positions in the tech giant, cutting their exposure by at least a third.

Ritholtz says the stock could fall further from here but does not believe the end of Apple is near.

“You cannot grow 20, 30 percent as a hardware company forever,” he says in the accompanying clip. “Apple is transitioning from a growth stock to a value stock.”

Increased competition has forced Apple to grow at a “reasonable instead of insane” rate, Ritholz adds, but that could change once the company establishes a foothold in China. Most importantly, consumers have not given up on Apple.

Apple “makes really good products that people like a lot,” he says. “And they will be continue to be innovative.”

The Daily Ticker’s Henry Blodget agrees and says there are several reasons why Apple will not become the next Nokia (NOK) or BlackBerry (BBRY). Apple’s management team – who helped introduce the world to the iPod, iPhone and iPad – are still at the company and Apple will be releasing its lower-priced iPhone soon -- an opportunity for the company to can gain a larger share of the global smartphone market. Blodget argues that the smartphone and tablet industries will be growing rapidly over the next several years, and with them, Apple.

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