Does Apple really have an identity crisis? Nope

Since nearly everyone is hosed on Apple shares, the handwringing and conspiracy theories are ramping over the company's prospects.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Apple's earnings season has quickly devolved into absurdity season as handwringing over everything from CEO Tim Cook's tenure to iPhone sales to whether the company is more hardware than software is in play.

Why? It's amazing what happens when Wall Street's hottest stock tumbles and drags mutual fund managers, retirement accounts, Apple fan boys, individual investors and a few others along with it. Oh the agony! Let's get real: Everyone owns Apple shares. Even if you hate the company, some index or mutual fund owns Apple so you do indirectly. The bell at Apple's peak was rung with all that $1 trillion market cap talk and then the company and its lack of product launches took over from there.

Apple shares over the last decade. Good times don't always last.

The worries about Apple are getting downright silly:

  • The Wall Street Journal chronicles Apple's hardware vs. software identity crisis: Apple doesn't worry about hardware and software and how it's valued, but Wall Street does. In fact, Apple does both and frankly the company was always valued as a tweener even as the stock hit its peak. Apple isn't Dell. And Apple isn't Microsoft. It integrates hardware and software and controls a great ecosystem. Funny how this identity thing wasn't an issue just a few months ago.
  • There's a campaign against Cook. First, the reports of this alleged campaign are mostly based on a whisper campaign by Doug Kass, an entertaining and insightful hedge fund manager. Spare me. If you think Cook is a poor choice, you try being the next act after Steve Jobs.
  • Nefarious forces are driving Apple shares lower. This argument is based on the idea that Wall Street somehow has it out for Apple. Exhibit A in this diabolical plan is Kass and his tweets about Cook. If you think Kass could really move institutional investors, I have a bridge to sell you.

So here's the reality: Everybody and their mom bought into the Apple story. When you buy a stock at its peak, you convince yourself that the good times will always last. A company with $156.5 billion in revenue in fiscal 2012 was supposed to hit an estimated $179.16 billion in fiscal 2013 revenue and then march on to $200.9 billion in fiscal 2014 without any hiccups. Along the way, Apple would reinvent TV and get another revenue pillar.

A look at Piper Jaffray's expectations for Apple's March and June quarters.

It all sounds so plausible for Apple except for the supply and demand dynamics of the company's stock. Simply put, there is no one else to buy shares of Apple. Everyone is on board. No one can believe they bought a stock that's flailing. And now everyone is trapped assuming investors are still hanging on. Enter all the handwringing.

The scary part is that a lot of folks probably think today's dynamic with Apple shares is new. Cisco in the dot-com bubble had a similar issue. Financial history is littered with super star tech stocks that go pop — as Research in Motion/BlackBerry. From time to time, the market revalues a company's prospects and sometimes you're on the wrong side of the trade. 

Here's Cisco's ride from the dot-com bust to now. 


What has changed about Apple amid this revaluation of shares? Nothing. Apple is a bit slow with its product launches, but has time. Apple also knows it has high expectations to hit so can't enter the market with crap (see Apple Maps). Apple is doing the rational thing: milking its existing products as it plots out its product roadmap. Keep in mind that the iPod launched in 2001, iTunes in 2003, iPhone in 2007 and the iPad in 2010. In other words, Apple is due for a new product line, but not way overdue.

In the end, it's worth asking who really has the identity crisis and patience problem. Here's a hint: It ain't Apple.

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