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Apple's Earnings Miss: Is it priced in?

Kevin Cook

The "tech wreck" of earnings misses has been brutal, with IBM, GOOG, and MSFT all making it tough to still love tech.

And AAPL hasn't even reported, but enough institutional holders of the stock have been selling to drive shares down to some very compelling levels. I thought the selling would continue this week, as many aggressive hedge fund bears are likely targeting $600 to see who they can flush out.

So it's nice to see the stock up over 2% this morning, even though I was hoping for a chance to buy more below $600.

But I also concluded last week that the selling is getting very close to over-done and that the "impending earnings miss" this Thursday is all but fully priced-in.

How do I know they are going to miss?

I don't, of course. But I pay attention to price. And price (and volume of the institutional variety) have been saying one thing: analysts and investors were getting more nervous about the quarterly results on Thursday.

The consensus for this FY12Q4 has been floating around the past two weeks just below $9, with the latest read at $8.93.

And this is after the company warned in July about this quarter coming in 25% below Street expectations of over $10. The consensus went as low $8.40 in July and has slowly worked its way back up.

But not everybody is on board, with the traditional AAPL bull Stifel Nicolaus reaffirming their call for $8.01.

And here were some headline updates last week on iPhone unit sales projections for the quarter...

William Blair reduced estimates from 33 million to 26.5 million units. And last Monday, their analyst also brought his EPS estimate for the quarter down to $8.39 from $9.17.

Gabelli & Company lowered their iPhone sales estimate from 32.1 million to 29.9m. Also last Monday, they took the full-year EPS down from $46 to $44 (consensus is $44.37).

Morgan Stanley is at 25 million units.

These are all houses prepared to be underwhelmed by this Thursday's report and they have probably been advising their private wealth and hedge fund clients that "better buying opportunities" in AAPL would soon be around the corner.

Wedbush is at only 24 million iPhones for the September quarter, saying that they expect sales to be tempered by the supply/delivery issues which many have cited in addition to potential quality issues (Maps, aluminum scratches, etc).

But, they, along with Barclays and Stifel, also expect a strong ramp in iPhone 5 sales and new products (iPad Mini) into Fiscal Q1 (the December quarter, since the quarter about to report is Apple's FQ4 for 2012). And they reiterated their 12-month price target of $885.

Barclays is at $930. Their analysts speak of Apple's dominance of "disruptive mobility" in tech continuing to power their earnings growth.

Stifel Nicolaus has been one of the biggest Apple bulls on the Street, but they are preparing for a big miss next week. Last week, they reaffirmed their $8.01 estimate for the quarter. They did raise their iPhone sale estimate from 22 million to 25 million, but they too remain concerned about supply issues.

Now Stifel is above the Street consensus for the December quarter at $16.50, but they just brought this down from an overly optimistic $16.91, as they view weaker Mac sales cannibalized by the new iPad Mini.

More importantly, they think Apple will guide the December quarter lower. And this has caused the analysts to lower their 2013 full-year estimate from $55.91 to $54.27, which is still above the consensus of $53.72.

One last note about the phone carriers: Verizon's numbers implied good things for iPhone 4 & 5 sales. Wells Fargo analyst Maynard Um found them very encouraging. This week, we get AT&T reporting on Wednesday the 24th and Sprint on the same day as Apple, so we should get a lot more visibility. The bottom could already be in by then I imagine.

Bottom line: I think the Apple miss is almost priced-in.

What do you think? What will an $8 report do?

And what will a $9 report do... send the stock racing higher? 

And will tomorrow’s new product announcements make sure the bottom is in at $610?

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