Are Wall Street expectations for Apple way too high?
It’s tempting to think so, after Apple announced that it’d sold 51 million iPhones in the quarter ended December 28, and financial analysts immediately lowered their stock-price targets. The stock itself dove 8 percent soon after the markets opened on Jan. 28. “Time for Apple to stop making excuses and start improving results,” some pundit hollered over at Yahoo Finance. And so on.
Other companies, of course, would literally kill for that level of quarterly smartphone sales. But Apple, after years of blockbuster sales, is held to an entirely different standard. So what if the company achieved record iPhone and iPad sales for the quarter? Wall Street wanted more iPhone sales, and didn’t care if Apple executives blamed the perceived shortfall on inventory issues. (Softening iPod sales, a stronger U.S. dollar, and some revenue deferral due to free software also impacted Apple’s bottom line, which didn’t help the markets’ sourness.)
Apple must also wrestle with the perception that smartphones and tablets are rapidly maturing markets; revenues from those segments might stay strong for the foreseeable future, but won’t grow at the same blistering pace as a few years ago. Pundits and analysts want Apple to enter untapped categories with high potential for growth, such as wearable electronics—and the fact that the company has yet to announce new products drives them, frankly, insane. (If Apple goes another year without announcing an Apple television set, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster—who’s spent years beating the drum for such a device—will most likely explode.)
But tens of millions of devices sold every quarter (and billions of dollars in revenue) means that Apple can take its own sweet time with regard to announcing new products. North American sales might go soft, Google Android might widen its lead over iOS in mobile-device market share, the plastic-bodied iPhone 5C could fail to sell in blockbuster numbers—none of it matters for the time being, because Apple has more than enough residual momentum to carry it through whatever it ultimately decides to do next. As much as it would like to think otherwise, Wall Street simply isn’t in the driver’s seat on this one.