Two Key Reasons Why Apple is Getting Crushed
On paper, Apple should be riding high: it has billions in cash; three new products rolled out in as many months, and just scored a major public relations boost by announcing it was moving part of its production back to the United States.
Now try telling that to traders, who are bolting from the tech giant's stock just as fast as they can hit the sell button. Its stock has cratered into bear market territory, shearing more than $150 billion in value off its market capitalization in the last several trading sessions.
While not quite the "Annus Horribilis" to which England's Queen Elizabeth once referred, it has certainly been a week to forget for Apple.
Analysts have blamed Apple's swoon on a host of factors –the looming "fiscal cliff", an unexpected change in margin requirements, and technical trading factors – but two key reasons appear to be rising to the top of Apple's list of woes.
The tech giant is certainly cash rich, with CEO Tim Cook projecting gross margins of 36 percent for the current quarter.
Yet some observers worry that much of its future profits will rely on its lower-priced items such as the freshly minted iPad Mini,triggering what experts euphemistically refer to as margin compression –earning more money on cheaper products.
That could impair its ability to earn money on its higher-end devices, such as the regular iPad and Mac computers.
(Read more: Apple's Smaller iPad Risks Cannibalization: Strategist.)
"Growth is slowing and the margin is likely to compress," noted Internet analyst Henry Blodget, who runs the Business Insider website, told CNBC earlier this week.
"That's the big thing that worries me, is that they're going togo to a lower margin mix of products especially as the iPad Minitakes off," he added. "It's hard to see the stock really rise inthe face of a compressing margin."
Compressed profits would put Apple at a competitive disadvantage at a time when it's trying to stare down a growing threat from Samsung, its principal foe in the tablet and smartphone wars.
The Korean technology juggernaut's Galaxy recently overtook the iPhone as the most widely purchased smartphone on the market, and continues to grow in popularity. (Read more:Samsung Trounces Apple in Smartphone Sales.)
Meanwhile, both companies are going head to head in an ongoing legal battle over patented technology.
Against that backdrop, Apple is entering a fallow period for new products. Even as sales on its new iPhone 5 and iPad Mini hit their stride ahead of the holiday shopping season, analysts see few signs of new products to sustain Apple's still sizable balance sheet beyond Christmas.
Although Apple watchers are looking for the company broaden its existing Apple TV venture, it's not likely that will materialize anytime soon.
All of which focuses on Apple's second major problem: a bubbling fear that the company's long-term creative well could be running dry.
"We have new iPads. We have new iPhones. We've had the computer lines refreshed," said Colin Gillis,senior technology analyst at BCG Financial, to CNBC this week. "Whether or not they bring out new products to help fill that void, the market tends to be forward looking and right now, Apple looks to be soft."
Although Cook is seen as an effective manager, he struggles against the impression that he lacks the same imagination for technology that Steve Jobs possessed. Those jitters were amplified after Apple suffered embarrassing criticism for its maps application that resulted in a top software developer being dumped from the executive suite. (Read more: Apple Fires Manager in Charge of Maps Software.)
Jobs, the deceased founder and erstwhile guru of what some have referred to as the "Cult of Apple" was a larger than life figure who had a reputation for innovation. Cook, however, cuts a relatively low profile, and is not known for having technology embedded in his DNA.
For his part, Cook doesn't appear to share those concerns. In an interview with NBC's "Rock Center" this week, the chief executive revealed a conversation he had with Jobs, in which the latter told him not to measure himself against Jobs' old accomplishments.
"One of the things he did for me that removed a gigantic burden that would normally have existed is he told me on a couple of occasions before he passed away, is to never question what he would have done," Cook said."Never ask the question what Steve would do, just do what's right."