For a company that seems a little down in the dumps these days, this week’s report on Apple Inc.’s quarterly financials is still eagerly awaited with both trepidation and anticipation. Probably with equal doses of both.
The cloud hanging over the company’s stock price is, of course, the health of CEO Steve Jobs and ongoing concerns whether his five-month sick leave may become permanent. Thus, the price drifts ever lower and lower, and it may take a lot of optimistic news to stop the hemorrhaging and set things on the upward path all over again.
The problem is, of course, that the stock market doesn’t necessarily recognize reality. A negative forecast or rumor about a potentially unfavorable development, such as Jobs’ medical condition, can send the price spiraling even if the information has no factual basis.
Take that CNN blog rumor, a few months back, that Jobs had a serious heart attack. In the space of a few minutes, Apple’s market cap fell by several billions of dollars. The story, of course, was untrue, and even with the more recent revelations that his illness is more serious than previously admitted, there’s no evidence that it is related to his heart.
Regardless, Apple will go on with or without its mercurial CEO — most of us hope it’s the former, but I won’t make any predictions. We’ve had far too many dire predictions from talking heads, medical doctors who have no personal knowledge of Jobs’ actual condition, along with a few tech writers who don’t seem to know when enough is enough.
So let’s look at a little bit of positive information for a change.
There’s a report that Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster is estimating that sales of new Macs might have actually increased in December, and that the quarter ended with worldwide totals ranging from 2.45 to 2.55 million Macs. if this is the case, the end result may actually be consistent with expectations from the investment community, and that may indeed give the lie to the claim that Apple suffered because its prices are too high.
At the same time however, Munster claims his data shows somewhat of a dip in iPod sales, ranging from minus 10 to minus 14 percent. If that’s true, and we won’t know until the actual figures are released, it would represent the very first time iPod sales have fallen since the product’s debut.
Does that mean that Apple’s hard-earned dominance in the music business is about to end? Probably not. More than likely, other than a general decline in the sales of media players, a fair portion of those purchases are going to iPhones — the ultimate iPod. The rest of the dip in sales may be due to the general economic climate, where many potential customers simply kept their wallets in their pockets rather than buy iPods and other gadgets as gifts.
Whatever numbers Apple releases, you can bet some members of the media will look for downsides. The obvious excuse will be concerns that the economic crisis may persist for over a year, meaning that, if Apple escaped doom last quarter, they can’t avoid the inevitable now. More to the point, media and financial analysts will be free with their advice on what Apple needs to do in order to escape the inevitable collapse in their sales.
Going forward, whatever products Apple does introduce this year, assuming they will stay the course as far as executing their original marketing plans are concerned, there will be no satisfying the skeptics. Even though some of you no doubt feel that the media fawns over Apple a little too much, in point of fact it’s really hard to find reports that are 100% favorable. The body of the story might seem positive, but there will always be something tossed in about potential competitors, Microsoft’s response, whether prices are too high or whether the announcements truly met one’s hopes and dreams.
To be sure, I wouldn’t want to be running Apple or any multinational corporation in this shaky economic climate. The problems that acting CEO Tim Cook is no doubt confronting are monumental, and I have little doubt that he and his fellow executives are under a severe amount of strain trying to cope with the current state of affairs.
I am not inclined to think the sky is falling, however. That approach may sell papers, get ratings and generate hits, but does it represent reality? I doubt it.