I get it.
We're supposed to ignore Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) disappointing fiscal fourth quarter. We're supposed to pretend that analysts that eat, sleep, and drink Apple-tinis for a living somehow forgot to factor in the lack of a shiny new iPhone 5 -- err, 4S -- in modeling this past quarter. We're supposed to forgive. And forget.
What if we don't?
The reason to ignore the rearview mirror and pay attention to the road ahead is clear: Apple sold a whopping 4 million iPhone 4S handsets this past weekend. That's nearly a quarter as many phones as the 17.1 million it cleared during this pesky fiscal fourth quarter. That's nearly a fifth of the record 20.3 million iPhones that Apple sold during the fiscal third quarter.
This still doesn't change the fact that we can no longer take low-balling analysts for granted. This still doesn't change the fact that despite yesterday's nearly 6% slide -- after hitting a new all-time high on Monday -- the stock is still trading nearly 6% higher than it was exactly three months ago. You know, when investors had to go all the way back to 2002 to find the last time that Apple hadn't crushed Wall Street's profit targets.
This still doesn't change the fact that Steve Jobs is no longer here.
Irony also begins with the letter "i"
Yesterday's commemoration highlighted Jobs' absence in more ways than one.
I'm sure it was a classy sendoff. I am an Apple fan, despite my new concerns for Apple as an investment. Kind words and celebrity musicians were on hand. This was by most accounts an honorable tribute to a one-of-a-kind visionary.
However, what bugs me is that they closed all of Apple's stores and how they went about it.
According to Reuters, stores around the country closed for several hours during the day so employees could watch the tribute. White sheets were draped in front of the signature windows, so inconvenienced shoppers couldn't even see what was going on inside.
Jobs was a master marketer. How would he feel about stores closing for three hours in the middle of the day? How many sales were lost? How many service appointments had to be reshuffled?
What's the deal with the sheets? Are we not supposed to see the Genius Bar techies nodding their heads as Norah Jones and Coldplay take the stage? Why weren't customers allowed inside? Why was there this exclusionary curtain, as if Apple was separating a first class cabin from its customers flying coach?
It sends the wrong message, even if I come off as some calloused jerk in pointing out exactly what you're thinking.
The future won't be easy
Apple has been a monster stock over the past decade, and it's still growing at a headier pace than its low P/E multiple. This current quarter will be a record quarter.
However, let's go over a few headwinds that Apple is either starting to face or will eventually be facing.
- Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) Android continues to gain market share in smartphones, and its new operating system upgrade is on the way.
- AT&T (NYSE: T ) reported quarterly results this morning. Android sales have more than doubled over the past year at the original iPhone wireless carrier.
- Nokia (NYSE: NOK ) -- the company that Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) is paying billions to in order to champion its mobile operating system -- posted better-than-expected results this morning. The global handset leader is doing better on the low end than it is on smartphones, but selling a slightly sequentially improved 16.8 million smartphones is nearly what Apple did during the same three months.
- Deutsche Bank's hardware analyst reiterated his "sell" rating on Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) yesterday, arguing that Europe's economic vulnerability makes hardware tech companies -- which rely on Europe for roughly 30% of their sales, on average -- a bad bet. Doesn't this make Apple, even if it's less Europe-centric, vulnerable too?
Analysts and financial journalists argue that this past quarter was an anomaly, even though this really wasn't just about the iPhone. Several of these historically low-balling analysts were modeling higher iPad sales, too. We won't even bother to touch on the decelerating decline in iPods, but it has to enter the conversation if we're only blaming the four-month 4S delay.
There are monsters under Apple's bed, and Android, Microsoft, and the global economic funk aren't as toothless as bulls remember.
If you want to see what the tech giant does next, consider adding Apple to My Watchlist.