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Are iPhone 5 rumors torpedoing Apple’s Q2 revenues?

Apple (AAPL - NASDAQ) is warning investors that returns for the current second quarter will be lower than projections, triggering widespread and feverish speculation that the fall-off is due to swirling rumors about an early summer launch for iPhone 5.

Apple has lowered its earnings guidance to Wall Street for the June quarter, though that was expected because Apple usually does so for this period, according to one analyst. What wasn’t expected: the guidance was worse than stock traders expected.

SCUTTLEBUTT: iPhone 5 rumor rollup for week ending May 11

Bloggers and pundits almost at once concluded that it the fall off is due to intense iPhone 5 rumors and the expectation or hope that Apple may announce it during the June Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco.

Some Wall Street analysts are “starting to panic” over Apple’s revenues for the quarter, claims Jay Yarrow, in a story at BusinessInsider. “Analysts think Apple is due for a big come down,” Yarrow insists. But it’s hard to see evidence of panic.  

Last Friday, Credit Suisse lowered its earnings-per-share estimates for Apple, while repeating its assessment that Apple’s stock will still “Outperform.” The firm lowered its calendar 2012 EPS estimates by 3% and its calendar 2013 EPS by 5%.

Another analyst, Katy Huberty at Morgan Stanley, kept her expectations unchanged, though she noted that hers already are below the consensus numbers of analysts overall. In a note to investors, reported by Yarrow, Huberty says “Apple's guidance for the June quarter was significantly worse than expected. Apple always delivers weak Q2 guidance. Typically revenue is 2% below analyst estimates, and EPS is 10% below analyst estimates. This time revenue was 9% below estimates and EPS was 12% below estimates.”

Huberty now estimates $34.8 billion in revenue for the quarter and $9.39 EPS, which are 7-9% below estimates, according to BusinessInsider.

Taking the same deductive leap as Yarrow, Christian Zibreg at iDownloadBlog.com concluded that “Some analysts are now concerned that Apple is due for a big come down because swirling iPhone 5 rumors could negatively impact sales of the current-generation iPhone 4S/4 as would-be buyers withhold their planned purchases in anticipation of a new model.”

Neither Yarrow or Zibreg are quite clear on whether they think it’s Apples stock price, earnings per share or its revenue that is due for a “big come down.” Keep in mind that historically “negative impact on sales” means in fact “slower rate of growth” in iPhone unit sales in the quarter preceding the introduction of a new model.

Last September, Apple CEO Tim Cook, during a conference call with investors on Apple’s Q4 results, blamed lower than expected iPhone sales for the quarter on iPhone 5 rumors and widespread expectations that Apple was set to launch the new model in the Fall of 2012. In October, Apple unveiled the iPhone 4S.

But Cook went on to say that the fall-off in sales accelerated during the second half of the quarter, yet was much less than Apple actually expected. The actual revenue and profit results for the quarter set an Apple record, even though they were slightly less than what analysts had forecast.  

For example, analysts had projected iPhone sales of about 22 million for the quarter; Apple actually sold 17 million. For the quarter ending in September, Apple's revenues were $28.3 billion, slightly less than Q3 and about one billion less than the amount expected by analysts. Profits for Q4 were $6.62 billion, also down slightly from Q3. But revenues and profits were dramatically higher than in Q4 last year, when Apple reported $20.3 billion in revenues and $4.31 billion in profit.

This really shouldn’t come as a surprise. As Zibreg notes in his story, analyst Horace Dediu at Asymco.com has looked the historical record of iPhone sales. “Each new iPhone launch was preceded by a quarter where units went down sequentially. The same has happened with the iPad for the one tradition we’ve had so far,” Dediu wrote in a blog post last October.

The iPhone market shows consistent behavior in three areas, according to Dediu:

* Overall production capacity is increasing at about 100% per year.

* There is “significant seasonality due to production ramps as the product is updated on a yearly cycle. These cycles are tuned to reach maximum throughput during the US holiday period.”

* “Demand is practically unlimited and is throttled by both production schedule and distribution agreements.”

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.

Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnwcoxnww

 

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