SAN FRANCISCO— One month ago, Goldman Sachs added Apple shares to its “conviction buy” list, its highest rating for any stock.
So far, though, technology investors haven’t embraced Goldman’s bullishness on the shares.
The stock (AAPL) is down 7% since the giant investment bank upgraded the shares from a mere “buy” rating.
During that same time, the broader market for tech shares, as represented by the Nasdaq Composite Index, is off 1%.
The stock took another hit Friday as analysts at other Wall Street banks and brokerages grow more cautious on Apple’s near term.
Indeed, given the trend in earnings estimates for Apple’s fiscal year ending next September, Goldman’s call is starting to look like more of an outlier every day.
During the past week, 10 firms that cover the stock have reduced their earnings estimates for Apple’s fiscal second-quarter ending in March.
Meanwhile, 11 have lowered their numbers for the full fiscal year.
In those same seven days, only one firm has raised its estimates for that quarter and the year.
The new bearishness has reduced the average estimate among the 49 analysts who cover Apple to $9.78 a share, from $9.85 for the year.
For the March quarter, the estimate has dropped to $2.41 a share from $2.46.
Granted, those moves are small, but the latest trend on Apple among those who are paid to cover the company is bearishness.
Some of that has to do with weakness in Apple component suppliers, which has raised fears that iPhone revenue this fiscal year will be less than stock bulls have hoped for.
Fewer-than-expected iPhone sales would undercut Goldman’s main rationale for its Nov. 18 upgrade: That Apple can start to layer high-value telecom services on top of its mobile hardware platform.
If the company could find a way to make money from its iMessage app or other mobile consumer services, those would provide a new revenue stream along with laptops, tablets, music, PCs, watches and smartphones.
Yet the company has yet to monetize its platform that way, which makes the Goldman call speculative.
All of this makes it worthwhile to look back at the last time Apple was added to the list, back in December, 2010.
That call turned out to be a big winner, as Apple shares rose roughly 120% over the next two years.
Yet Apple’s removal from the list in April, 2013, came too late to avoid the shares 34% drop from their highs in September, 2012.
All of which proves the old Wall Street maxim that when it comes to making money in the stock market, it’s all about timing.
While it’s way too early to judge the long-term merits of Goldman’s latest high-profile opinion on Apple shares, the call has so far proved to be ill-timed.
John Shinal has covered tech and financial markets for more than 15 years at Bloomberg, BusinessWeek,The San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch, Wall Street Journal Digital Network and others. Follow him on Twitter: @johnshinal.
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