Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is looking as dapper as ever ahead of tonight's fourth-quarter and full-year financial report. The House that Steve Jobs built is making big waves in the cell-phone market, and the Mac is growing its market share among a sea of PCs. What's next at the house that Steve Jobs built?

What Fools say:
Here's how Apple's CAPS rating stacks up against some of its peers and competitors:

 

Market Cap (Billions)

Trailing P/E Ratio

CAPS Rating

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT)

$225.6

13.2

 ***

Google (NASDAQ:GOOG)

$118.9

23.6

 ***

Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ)

$95.4

12.1

 ****

Apple

$84.3

18.7

 ****

Dell (NASDAQ:DELL)

$25.5

9.7

 **

Data taken from Motley Fool CAPS and Yahoo! Finance on 10/21/08.

Our CAPS players have a wide variety of motivations when they issue a thumbs-down rating. Some don't like the steep valuation, even after the recent market-shadowing slide. Others think that Apple's wares are too expensive for a consumer under this kind of pressure. Some even worry about the dependence on Steve Jobs' health. "Why invest in a company whose success, everyone believes, is based on one single person?" muses all-star CAPS member BullRider18.

But the bulls are no less vocal. Lots of players see value in these low, low share prices, and oparrott gives a shared "most-likely to-rule-the-world" yearbook award to Apple and Google. A debt-free balance sheet with more than $20 billion in cash and short-term investments looks attractive, too, these days.

What management does:
Apple does not get 90% gross margin on its stylish goods, no matter what the Mac skeptics may tell you. However, 34% is still a way fatter margin than the 18% Dell draws down or HP's 24.5%. Pulling off that trick while also accelerating your sales growth in an economy like the current one is an impressive trick, to say the least.

Margins

3/07

6/07

9/07

12/07

3/08

6/08

Gross

31.5%

33%

34%

35%

34.4%

34.1%

Operating

16.1%

17.5%

18.4%

19.7%

19.3%

19.1%

Net

12.9%

13.9%

14.6%

15.4%

15.1%

14.9%

Y-O-Y Growth

3/07

6/07

9/07

12/07

3/08

6/08

Revenue

24.7%

24.6%

24.3%

28.1%

33.2%

36.1%

Earnings

61.9%

67.1%

75.8%

67.8%

56%

46.8%

All data courtesy of Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's. Data reflects trailing-12-month performance for the quarters ended in the named months.

One Fool says:
Apple rarely disappoints its army of adoring fans and shareholders. In fact, Steve Jobs rarely misses a Wall Street earnings target. I'd be betting against the house in a big way if I said that Apple won't meet earnings estimates.

That doesn't mean that Apple is bulletproof, though. The company sometimes can give guidance below Street expectations and put a damper on the market's euphoria. If the new outlook is somber enough, the stock still takes a dive.

And that might very well happen this time. When Texas Instruments (NYSE:TXN) gives an outlook below analyst expectations, it's a bad sign for big customers in that corner of the chip market -- like smartphone makers, music-player designers, and other gadget mavens. Sound like anyone you know?

On the upside, people still seem willing to buy computers, so the Mac division should save Apple from total disaster even if iPods and iPhones go out of style. Just don't expect a big share-price pop after tonight's report, dear Fool. It's simply not in the cards.

Microsoft and Dell are Motley Fool Inside Value selections. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Or just sign up for a free CAPS account to discover more about your fellow Fools who were quoted above. They might have more to tell you!

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns a few Google shares but holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. You can check out Anders' holdings if you like, and Foolish disclosure is the Punxsutawney Phil of financial forecasting.