Apple’s (AAPL) third-quarter earnings miss was nothing short of a disaster. Despite the harsh sentiment, though, the second half of 2012 points to a product cycle unlike any in the company’s history, and investors may want to use today’s hair cut as a chance to step in.
Apple’s earnings miss raised eyebrows for several reasons. Europe and natural resource countries were weak. Speculation about the iPhone 5 hurt iPhone sales (only 26 million sold this quarter), issues surrounding Intel’s (INTC) Ivy Bridge chip, a later refresh for its MacBook line, and a stronger U.S. dollar.
“It’s [the earnings miss], a lull before a big December quarter,” said one hedge fund analyst over the phone who declined to be named. “It doesn’t really matter whether earnings are in one quarter or another, and it doesn’t look like there’s any slowdown.”
There’s also concern on lower average selling prices (ASPs) on both the iPhone and the iPad. Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu said that the higher cost of the iPad Retina Display hurt Apple’s margins this quarter. Apple’s gross margin was 42.8%, compared to analyst estimates of 44%.
Apple also forecast a shortfall in margins for the fourth quarter. J.P. Morgan analyst Mark Moskowitz said that most of the fourth-quarter gross margin shortfall can be explained by Apple’s fall product transition. The tech expects gross margins of 38.5%, down 430 basis points. Moskowitz lowered his price target to $675 from $695, but still rates Apple “overweight.”
Despite these concerns, Wall Street’s still positive on Apple, for a variety of reasons. “We are buyers on weakness as the big picture remains that there are 3 key upcoming catalysts, namely the 6th gen. iPhone refresh, smaller form factor iPad, and China Mobile,” Wu wrote, in a client note. He rates Apple shares “overweight” with a $780 price target, but cut his fiscal 2012 earnings estimate from $47.10 to $43.83.
Channing Smith, portfolio manager at Capital Advisors Growth Fund, says the earnings miss is a buying opportunity. “We believe the iPhone 5 4G LTE model will be the largest smartphone upgrade cycle ever and most Apple customers are going to wait for the latest and greatest model this fall. This simply creates pent-up demand which will be unleashed throughout the Christmas quarter,” Smith explained, in an email to TheStreet. “We would use this weakness as an opportunity to build a position. Investors need to focus on the next three years and not on the next quarter.”
Apple has yet to start selling the iPhone on the world’s largest mobile network China Mobile (CHL), which many believe will increase the iPhone’s demand like never before. CEO Tim Cook has repeatedly stressed the importance of China for Apple. The tech giant’s third-quarter revenue in the Asia-Pacific region was $5.7 billion, up 48% year-over-year, but down from the $7.9 billion it generated in the second quarter.
Cook said Apple is not seeing the slowdown in China others are seeing. “In terms of iPhones in general, in mainland China, we were incredibly pleased with our results. We were up over a 100% year-over-year,” he opined on the conference call. “And as you probably know, just last Friday so in Q4, we lunched our new iPad in China after we resolved the iPad trademark issue, and so our sales did not benefit from the new iPad in the June quarter in mainland China.”
Speculation about an iPad Mini also continues to swirl around the blogosphere, exciting investors and analysts and moving Apple higher. “Since we think Apple will launch a new iPhone, iPad, and TV in the next few Qs, we believe that Apple’s stock will move higher through year-end,” BMO Capita Markets analyst Keith Bachman wrote in a research note. He rates Apple “outperform,” but cut his price target to $680 from $700.
Sanford Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi believes that fourth-quarter guidance is “aggressive,” and that could be because of the iPad Mini. Apple expects “revenue of about $34 billion and diluted earnings per share of about $7.65,” CFO Peter Oppenheimer said in a statement.
Concern about the slowdown, though, is “largely irrelevant,” according to Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster. “Bottom line it’s not as bad as it looks, and we believe the primary reason for the soft iPhone number is anticipation of iPhone 5 (Sep-11 deja vu),” he said. “Our take is with June results and September guide now out of the way, shares will move higher over the next couple of quarters in anticipation of an October release of iPhone 5, smaller iPad and the holiday quarter.”