NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
Has Apple's amazing run reached its zenith -- or are investors simply overreacting?
Certainly, the company has seen tremendous growth in the last year. Apple posted a net profit of $430 million, or $0.50 per diluted share, for its fiscal fourth quarter for 2005, including a $0.12 tax benefit. Excluding the tax benefit, Apple earned $0.38 cents a share, just ahead of Wall Street expectations of $0.37.
Still, despite posting the highest revenue and earnings in its history and quadrupling its profit from the year-ago quarter, the company's stock plunged 10 percent in after-hours trading as investors expressed disappointment that revenues missed expectations. The company reported sales of $3.68 billion for the quarter. Analysts had expected Apple to post revenues of $3.73 billion.
"As you are seeing with stock's reaction in the after hours, given where the stock was, they had to produce a flawless quarter and they didn't," said Shaw Wu, an analyst with American Technology Research. "They had some weaknesses on gross margin and revenue, and iPod and Mac units coming in below what investors were hoping for."
Wu said that gross margin was expected to be 29 percent; it was actually 28.1 percent. Also, the company guided margins downward for the next quarter, citing an unfavorable mix toward music products like the iPod, which produce lower margins than Macs.
Apple's profit quadrupled in part because of continued strong sales of its iPod. The company shipped 6.45 million iPods in the quarter.. Shipments were up 220 percent from the year-ago quarter. But still, these figures fell short of some analysts' expectations; Wu said analysts projected sales of 7.5 to 8 million iPods for the quarter.
"I had expected a hair over 7 million iPods, but iPod quarterly noise is less important to the story overall for the long run," said Rod Bare, a technology analyst at Morningstar. "It's really keeping an eye on the Mac units sold. We had Mac sales that were roughly in line with expectations, but we'll just have to keep an eye on them over the next couple of quarters or so."
Added S.G. Cowen analyst Richard Chu, "They are doing a tremendous job; it's clear that the Street considers iPod numbers to be light, but that (effect) can be pretty transient."
Desktop sales disappointing
On the personal computer front, Apple shipped 1.2 million Macs during the quarter, up 48 percent from the same quarter last year.
Wu noted that while the company's notebook sales increased to 634,000 units from 495,000 in the previous quarter, desktop sales actually declined from 687,000 in the previous quarter to 602,000.
Chu added that it is difficult to forecast the next quarter until tomorrow, when the company is expected to announce new products, including a revamped iPod line. Chu said he feels it is clear that Apple will replace some of its hard-disk iPods.
"I think that should set up a very positive picture for the December quarter, subject to execution," said Chu.
The company's recently-launched iPod nano, which replaced the iPod Mini, uses flash-based memory. It hit the one-million mark in the first 17 days after its launch.
"Demand for this product is staggering," said Tim Cook, Apple's executive vice president of worldwide sales and operations. He said retailers are calling him daily to request more nanos.
The company said it expects revenue of about $4.7 billion for its next quarter, with GAAP earnings per diluted share of about $0.46, including an estimated $0.03 per share expense that translates to non-GAAP EPS of about $0.49. International sales accounted for 40 percent of the quarter's revenue.
Wu said that following Apple's less than perfect report, the stock's valuation may finally return to Earth.
"Apple is a great company, but in our opinion the stock was overbought, and now it's going to correct a little bit," he said.
Analysts quoted in this story do not own shares of Apple, nor do they have banking ties to the company.