Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) shares have performed exceptionally well lately, returning nearly 50% since last year. This strong performance is likely a combination of strong business performance (thanks to the iPhone and Mac product lines) as well as a very aggressive capital return strategy involving both large share repurchases and a generous dividend.
The shares recently hit an all-time high of $119.75 (that's $838.25 presplit), but have since pulled back, and now trade at $115.84 as of writing. Should investors use this opportunity to pick up some shares, or is waiting for a larger pullback before pulling the trigger the right move?
What are investors currently baking in?
In order to make an informed buy-or-sell decision, an investor needs to have some sense of the risk-to-reward of buying a particular stock at a particular price. According to Yahoo Finance, analyst estimates currently call for Apple to grow its revenue by approximately 15.20% for the current fiscal year, and then for a more modest 5.80% for the year after that. For the current quarter, analyst consensus calls for $66.25 billion in revenue, up 15% year over year.
To help put this into perspective, Apple guided to $63.5 billion to $66.5 billion in sales for the current quarter, the midpoint of which would represent 12.85% year-over-year revenue growth; at the high end, Apple would register 15.45% revenue growth. In other words, the analyst consensus not only calls for revenue growth for the current quarter at the high end of the issued guidance, but is calling for this aggressive level of growth across the entire next fiscal year.
The analyst community (and the investors who are likely investing based on this consensus) are pretty upbeat about Apple's chances of performing very well over the next year.
What does this mean for investors?
Typically, the risk/reward profile for a high-quality company like Apple is best when everybody is down on the stock. During those times, everybody is so darn set to look at what could go wrong, they forget to consider what could go right.
The problem arises from the fact that the reverse can also be true; when everybody is expecting outperformance from a high-quality company like Apple, even a "good" performance relative to a company's guidance could be viewed as "poor" or a "miss." This is not any fault of the company's, but just a product of too much optimism.
So, in the case of Apple, it seems that a lot of investors are already baking in the idea that Apple is probably sandbagging its quarterly guidance and can achieve quite high growth numbers across the year. This very well may be true, and I personally wouldn't be surprised if Apple were able to hit those analyst estimates. However, if Apple doesn't achieve the performance that investors are expecting, then the stock could pull back pretty meaningfully.
So, is it time to buy the dip here?
At this point, I have a lot of confidence in Apple's business, and management is putting to use its enormous cash balance to repurchasing stock. However, at this point I worry that investor expectations may be quite high in light of analyst consensus estimates calling for some pretty aggressive growth numbers.
Apple is a great company, and on a more meaningful pullback, I would be interested in buying the stock. For now, though, since investors seem to be expecting "perfection," I'm going to stay on the sidelines ... for now.
Ashraf Eassa has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.