Apple Rumor Mills "Abuzz" But I'm Not Buying Them


Apple investors have to be scratching their heads wondering when the great story of 2007 will return to 2008. Or if it will at all. The latest grenade lobbed into the Apple tent comes from Friedman Billings Ramsey, purporting to show that Apple has reduced production of its iPod, iPhone and Mac.

Analyst Craig Berger covers chips for FBR. He's not the Apple analyst, and this is important. I'll come back to this in a second.

He says in a note this week, that “recent checks show that Apple has cut both its iPod and iPhone build plans for calendar 1Q.” And the cuts are significant, he says, writing that the company was anticipating a 50 percent sequential decline (which follows the fall-off in business from the seasonally strong holiday shopping quarter to the next quarter), but is now expecting a 60 percent cutback instead.

Surprisingly, Berger reports that the product seeing the biggest declines is the iPod Touch, the higher-priced, higher-margin device touted by CEO Steve Jobs at the recent Macworld show as the saving grace for Apple as sales in older iPods--with lower margins--begin to slow.

Not just bad news for Apple, but Broadcom which supplies the touch-screen control technology, and Marvell which supplies wi-fi components for the iPhone. Again, Berger's expertise. Chips. Not necessarily Apple. Seems this note could have been infinitely more valuable to chip investors following Apple's conference call. Not two weeks after the call.

Berger also writes that Apple cut this quarter's MacBook forecast as well; now expecting business to drop 50 percent sequentially instead of the original 35 percent.

Good news on the iMac front, he says, with the company increasing forecasts from an expected flat quarter to up 35 percent sequentially instead.

I'm not going to impugn Berger's research. Seems solid enough and since I don't know exactly who his sources are, it's difficult to discern how relevant this all is. What I do know is this: Apple just released earnings two weeks ago. Ipod sales were weaker than Street estimates, but Mac sales were robust and iPhone was in line. Those are the facts.

Looking ahead, as I was listening in, Apple was very clear on its conference call that business would see a normalized, seasonal slowdown in its fiscal second quarter. The stock got walloped because it didn't measure up to Wall Street expectations, lofty as they were. What I'm saying is that if the FBR "news" is that Apple's business will see a slowdown this quarter, well, tell me something I didn't already know! Apple has said this: slowdown expected.

Yet scary headlines are making the rounds anew and dragging Apple shares down. There seems to be a spate of rumors surrounding these shares. Not one piece of bad news plaguing investors; but what appears to be a wholesale, fundamental breakdown of the Apple business model.

I'm not buying it. Seems so weird, yet here we are again, tracking another day in the red for Apple. I don't see any new bad news here backed up by hard data. What I do see are a bunch of skittish investors selling first and asking questions later.

Maybe that's the new normal on Wall Street, but it seems like missed opportunities will characterize portfolios as much as their red ink. Apple long term is still the best positioned hardware/software company playing in all things digital entertainment, arguably tech's most exciting sector. This buy-high/sell-low investor strategy, especially with Apple, makes no sense to me.

Questions? Comments?