After three consecutive closes below the psychologically important $400 level, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) managed to climb higher during Tuesday's session to close at $406.13. Apple's stock has been falling since it crossed $700 last fall, and recent operating results are not helping matters. While the company announced that it will speed up the clip at which it returns cash to investors, it is not doing so at the rate many had hoped to see from Cupertino. The question now becomes whether Apple has put the bad news behind it and can grow from here or if things are really beginning to look grim. While news of a slower-than-expected release schedule is not good news for shareholders, at current levels the stock is attractive.
CEO Tim Cook was unusually candid about the tepid nature of Apple's latest operating results: "Though we've achieved a credible scale and financial success, we acknowledge that our growth rate has slowed and our margins have decreased from the exceptionally high level we experienced in 2012." For the second fiscal quarter, Apple saw profits fall by 18% even with an 11% rise in revenue. Reduced analyst expectations had the company earning $10 per share; Apple reported EPS of $10.09 relative to $12.30 a year earlier.
As a part of the release, the company also announced that it was accelerating the rate at which it returns money to investors. The dividend will be increased by 15% to $3.05 per quarter and a stock repurchase program will be put in place as well. All in all, the company plans to return as much as $100 billion to investors by the end of 2015. The move is seen by some analysts as a good start rather than a complete solution, as shareholders have been clamoring for more since the shareholders' meeting.
In addition to earnings details and an updated capital plan, Cook hinted that new products would not be available as quickly as once thought. He alluded to new releases in the fall, meaning the iPhone 5 upgrade would miss the summer release some had hoped for. Rumors of a cheaper iPhone abound, though it seems this may be delayed as well.
Behind the numbers
While the operating results were hardly glowing, putting them in context is an important first step. It is very easy to forget how stellar Apple's results have been, even compared to rivals like Google and Samsung. Google has avoided the plunge that took Apple shares down 44%, but on valuation and other metrics, Apple's stock looks compelling here. The impact of these past results is that the street is now looking for near perfection from the company. Most companies and investors would salivate over Apple's results, yet they look meager relative to hopes.
Still, the report was not without some points of concern. For example, growth in China came in around 8%. This was the slowest growth region for the company behind the U.S., underscoring how much of a challenge Apple faces in this critical market. With Android still the dominant OS, and with Nokia's Windows Phones doing well, Apple's success is far from certain in the region.
Ultimately, the $400 level remains a critical one for Apple, particularly over the next few days. If the stock can hold above this mark, investors may gain the confidence to help push it higher. If shares falter below $400 for an extended period, the stock could tumble further. Even given this risk, an allocation makes sense here because the pure value is absolutely present.
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