Tech stocks haven't been holding up so well early this earnings season. Just like the New York Yankees during this week's American League Championship Series, tech's big bats have been problematically silent.
Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) is A-Rod, an aging great that's doing a whole lot of striking out lately. Typically reliable Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) is Derek Jeter, bowing out early this round after a freakish mishap.
However, there's now a hush in the crowd as Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) emerges from the on-deck circle. This has been tech's cleanup hitter in recent years. Surely the world's most valuable technology player can still win the game for investors when it takes a big swing next Thursday.
Apple should be used to being in this situation by now. Many will argue that the class act of Cupertino has been carrying the team for ages. Back out the iEverything purveyor, and an already ugly third quarter gets downright gruesome. Still, there are a few reasons suggesting that Apple won't be able to save this perilous earnings season. Let's review.
1. Apple hasn't been perfect lately
Like clockwork, Apple under Steve Jobs would issue conservative guidance. Analysts would perch themselves a bit north of that figure, but it was never enough. Apple was a consistent thumper of Wall Street's profit targets.
Things haven't exactly played out that way under CEO Tim Cook. Apple has come up short in two of the past four quarters, including the company's most recent report.
2. Apple isn't hitting on all cylinders
Apple is relying on iPhones and iPads -- two product lines that weren't around until 2007 and 2010, respectively -- for the lion's share of its business these days. That's probably a good thing. Apple has seen iPod sales sputter in recent years, and now its flagship Macs may be on the decline.
Industry tracker IDC reported earlier this month that domestic shipments of Apple's Mac and MacBook computers declined 7% during the past three months. This is just an estimate, of course. Apple will have the real metrics in a few days. It's also important to point out that this is a stateside figure. Apple may very well be selling a ton of computers overseas, though strength in Asia may be offset by weakness in Europe. In the end, investors shouldn't expect an encouraging number in that category.
3. Apple's success doesn't trickle down to everybody else
There's no shortage of Apple beneficiaries. Wireless carriers worldwide have benefited from Apple's iPhones. Component makers, contract manufacturers, and even shopping mall landlords benefit from the popularity of all things Apple.
However, for the most part, Apple's success comes at the expense of its peers. An iPhone buyer is bypassing handsets that run the operating systems that Google and Microsoft are championing. Buy an iPad and you're not likely to buy a PC.
Apple's ecosystem is also pretty exclusive. Buyers of iPads and iPhones no longer have much of a need to buy physical CDs, books, DVDs, or perhaps even games.
"You are becoming too popular," I told Apple in a somewhat controversial article two years ago. "You're just not leaving scraps for anybody else to share the wealth."
Kudos to Apple for succeeding, but a strong report by Apple may actually hint at weakness everywhere else.
4. Wall Street's taking baby steps back
One of the biggest thrills for Apple investors has been to see analysts trip over themselves to boost profit and price targets higher on the company. When you're a serial overachiever, the scrambling happens like clockwork.
Well, that isn't really happening these days. Three months ago -- before Apple's miss -- analysts were looking for fiscal fourth-quarter earnings to clock in at $10.22 a share. Last week it was $8.91 a share. Today it's $8.85. Even Wall Street's outlook for fiscal 2013 is starting to slip.
This isn't the same Apple that growth investors bid to fresh all-time highs last month.
5. It's too late to save this earnings season
It was a rough week for tech bellwethers. Microsoft and Google missed. IBM (NYSE: IBM ) stunned the market by posting a 5% decline in revenue. AMD (NYSE: AMD ) took a beating on Friday after posting a wider loss than analysts were expecting and announcing a round of layoffs that the market was, sadly, already expecting.
There really isn't anything Apple can say to salvage this very challenging quarter. It probably sold a ton of iPhones and iPads, but it's not going to make a difference for the tech companies reporting later -- just as it hasn't made a lick of difference for the companies reporting before.