2 Things to Look for in Apple's Earnings -- and 1 Not to

With today's close, U.S. stocks recorded their sixth consecutive winning day, as the benchmark S&P 500 rose 0.4%, putting it just six-tenths of a percent below its early April all-time high. The narrower Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) also gained 0.4%, while the technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index (NASDAQINDEX: ^IXIC  ) was up 1%. The latter has notched up a six-day winning streak of its own since it bottomed just below 4,000 on April 11, for an aggregate gain of 4%.

That streak may have put an end to what looked like the early stage of a correction in technology shares -- or perhaps it has simply postponed it. In a letter to his investors on Tuesday, value-focused money manager David Einhorn warned that: "Now there is a clear consensus that we are witnessing our second tech bubble in 15 years. What is uncertain is how much further the bubble can expand, and what might pop it." Mr. Einhorn has been closely followed ever since he presented Lehman Brothers as candidate for a "short" position well before the broker declared bankruptcy.

I tend to agree with him, although I think the term "bubble" may overstate what we are now witnessing. The breadth and magnitude of overvaluations at the height of the late '90s technology bubble was far greater than the current phenomenon, at any rate. Furthermore, "a clear consensus" that a bubble is under way is self-contradictory -- if the existence of a bubble were widely acknowledged by investors, that would presumably be sufficient to take the air out of the bubble immediately. Perhaps Mr. Einhorn meant that such a consensus exists among his direct peers (i.e., mainly savvy, value-conscious investors).

Sure enough, Einhorn goes on to write that, "The current bubble is an echo of the previous tech bubble, but with fewer large capitalization stocks and much less public enthusiasm." One very large capitalization tech stock that is not participating in the bubble -- rather the opposite, in fact -- is Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) , a stock from which David Einhorn has made a nice return during the past several years, incidentally. The maker of the iPhone reports its fiscal second-quarter results tomorrow; here are two things to look out for, and one not to:

  • First, don't expect a new product announcement. Yes, CEO Tim Cook has said that Apple will announce a new product category this year; however, Apple watchers don't expect any announcement before the company's World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC), which takes place in San Francisco on Jun. 2-6. Investors are extremely impatient for this, but they ought to take heart – WWDC is coming up quickly and, given the enormous media exposure it attracts, it's a logical showcase for a new product.
  • China iPhone sales. Apple and China Mobile, China's largest mobile phone operator, signed their landmark distribution agreement at the end of last year, and iPhones went on sale at China Mobile locations in mid-January. As such, Apple has nearly a full calendar quarter of sales data to look at. The agreement creates a long growth runway for Apple in a massive market – it will be interesting to see the initial results.
  • Capital return program. At the end of February, CEO Tim Cook promised an update on the firm's $100 billion share repurchase and dividend program "within the next 60 days." Despite having returned more than half of that $100 billion target since the program was first announced a year ago tomorrow (it's meant to be completed by the end of calendar 2015), Apple continues to accumulate cash faster than it can dole it out or invest it. As such, there are good odds Apple will increase the program tomorrow, particularly if it doesn't announce a new product.

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