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When Will Tim Cook Apologize to Apple Shareholders?

By Rick Munarriz - Apr 2, 2013 at 8:00PM

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Apple's apology in China was a smart move, but it's just the beginning.

Apple (AAPL -0.03%) recently came under attack in China, and responded with an apology.

While CEO Tim Cook's in mea culpa mode, do you think he can spare one more for his shareholders?

I get the importance of Cook himself addressing concerns about Apple's warranty and return policies in China. This is Apple's second-largest market. It's too important to ignore, especially at a time when cheaper Android smartphones and tablets are starting to gain favor.

However, if Cook is vowing that Apple will improve its customer service in China, shouldn't he also be addressing the many negative developments that have stung Apple as an investment?

  • Apple reports its fiscal second quarter results in three weeks. Each of the nearly four dozen analysts modeling the tech giant's financials see a drop in profitability. This would be Apple's first year-over-year decline in earnings per share since 2003.
  • Wall Street has been whittling down Apple's profit targets for months, but an unwelcome milestone was crossed late last week when the consensus estimate for all of fiscal 2013 fell below the $44.15 a share it rang up in fiscal 2012. You have to go back more than a decade to find the last time that Apple's earnings per share slipped over the course of an entire fiscal year.
  • Apple's stock has fallen in back-to-back quarters. You have to go back to the tail end of 2008 to find the last time that that happened, and we were in a global economic funk at the time. If Apple closes lower this quarter -- and it's already off to a bad start with yesterday's 3% decline -- it would be the first time that investors have seen that since early 2003.
  • Shares of Apple are still trading higher during the Cook era at Apple, but it's fallen short on the bottom line in half of those six reports, including two of the past three. The same consumer tech bellwether rarely disappointed during Steve Jobs' tenure.

It's too late to apologize
Some will argue that none of this is Apple's fault. Apple doesn't need to apologize, apologists will suggest. It's not Apple's fault that analysts aren't sticking closer to the company's guidance. Apple doesn't control the market's whims. Even Apple's fiscal shortcomings are more about what Google (GOOGL -0.09%) has done right with Android than anything that Apple has necessarily done wrong with iOS. It's no accident Google's share price has crossed over $800.

The game has changed, and there was little that Apple could've done to avoid its fate in having to sacrifice near-term margins for the sake of market share.

However, Cook's apology in China was about a failure to communicate the company's warranty practices in a market that accounts for 15% of Apple's sales. Hasn't Apple done a lousy job of communicating here, too?

Even under the threat of a proxy fight earlier this year, Apple couldn't justify why it doesn't beef up its yield to replace tiring growth investors with dividend-chasing income investors.

It has now been four months since Cook teased about TV as an area of "intense interest" at Apple -- and he did so on national television. Well? Google's holding contests to give away high-tech Glass and chatting about its fleet of self-driving cars. Where's Apple in the realm of wearable computing?

Apple has been quiet for too long. Secrecy ahead of a major rollout is understandable, but Apple no longer has the luxury of guarding its future as if it's Willy Wonka shielding his whimsical factory. Samsung's bar-raising Galaxy S4 hits the market in a few weeks, and the world wants to know why it should wait for Apple's smartphone response.

Apologizing and communicating more effectively in China were the right things to do. Now it's time to repatriate that attitude.

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