Apple investors and tech lovers alike are eagerly awaiting the company's product event on Tuesday, at which Apple is expected to announce the iPhone 6 and perhaps also a smartwatch. But if past is prologue, then Apple bulls will soon run into tough times, contends trader Dan Nathan of RiskReversal.com.
Apple shares recently hit an all-time high, before retreating a bit. The last time Apple shares were near current levels, the company had just announced the iPhone 5. But after impressing investors with the fresh technology, the shares went on to lose nearly half of their value over the ensuing six months.
It was at the time of "the much-anticipated iPhone 5 launch back in 2012 when the stock was at the prior highs," Nathan pointed out Friday on CNBC's "Options Action." And ahead of the presumptive release of the iPhone 6, the story is similar.
"It had a massive run this year right into it. There was a huge rotation into the stock this year because of the product launches that are up on us," he said.
And that similar stock run is mirrored by another eerie similarity. Apple's price-earnings ratio, which simply compares the stock price to the company's earnings, is also just where it was back in September 2012 when the stock ran into trouble.
That means that in order for the stock to keep rising, either Apple will have to show higher earnings, or investors will need to become willing to pay more for each dollar of earnings than they were previously. And Nathan doesn't think either scenario is too likely.
First of all, as the prior chart makes clear the stock has already enjoyed what Nathan terms a "massive sentiment shift," so it may not be high time for a fresh surge of bullish sentiment.
And when it comes to Apple's profits, Nathan points out that since 2012, the company's gross margin has fallen from 44 percent to 39 percent—a victim, he says, of increased pricing pressure from competitors, and commoditization of Apple's products.
Michael Khouw, primary strategist at Dash Financial, is also skeptical about Apple's prospects at this point.
"One of the biggest justifications for buying Apple here is that we're going to see some form of multiple expansion. What justifies that? Revenue growth or income growth," Khouw said. "We do not expect that this year we're going to see, quarter-on-quarter versus 2012, higher net income than we did then. Although we probably will see marginally higher revenues."
For that reason, "I would keep my eye on the revenue number. If that thing starts to drift off, then I don't see why the multiple would expand at all," Khouw said.
—By CNBC's Alex Rosenberg. Follow the show on Twitter: @CNBCOptions.