Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

Apple Q4 earnings smackdown

October 19, 2008: 8:35 AM ET

Andy Zaky has a bone to pick with Wall Street -- or rather, with the professional analysts who cover Apple (AAPL) at Morgan Stanley (MS), Citigroup (C), Bank of America (BAC), and the rest.

"I could write a book on what Wall Street analysts don't know," he says. "A fifth grader could make better forecasts."

An Apple enthusiast and small-scale investor, Zaky writes a financial blog called Bullish Cross and regularly posts his findings on Seeking Alpha, a popular venue for stock pickers, money managers and investment newletter publishers. He's one of a small group of unpaid analysts who follow Apple so closely that their private predictions of the company's sales and earnings are often more accurate than those offered clients by the pros. Zaky's estimates for Apple's second fiscal quarter, in particular, were spot on. (See here.)

So with only days to go before the fourth quarter earnings call that Apple has scheduled for 5 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Oct. 21, Zaky has put together a chart comparing the Q4 estimates of the leading Wall Street Apple analysts with those generated by what he calls the "real analysts" -- specifically, himself, Financial Alchemist's Turley Muller, and an anonymous investor who writes under the pen name Deagol (after a J.R.R. Tolkien character). All three are active participants at the two leading Apple investor sites, The Mac Observer's Apple Finance Board and Investor Village's private AAPL Sanity (registration required), where they have attracted a loyal following.

The chart below represents Zaky's survey as of Sunday morning. It's a work in progress and may contain errors; analysts with corrections or updates are welcome to mail them here.

As you can see, the unpaid analysts are considerably more sanguine about Apple's performance for the quarter ended Sept. 30 than are the men and women who do it for a living. Zaky's estimate for iPhones sold in Q4, for instance, is 85% higher than the Street's (7.5 million units vs. 4.0 million). He's confident that he's right, however, and is happy to explain where he gets his numbers:

"I have charts and trend for every single data point in Apple's financial statement as do Muller and Deagol," he writes. "For instance, the iPhone number is supported by NPD Data, Muller's interpretation of net application OS market share and IMEI Number tracking by Mac Observer [see here]. Our computer sales number is supported by NPD, Gartner and IDC data.  I can tell you right now that the Mac number will not deviate significantly from our forecast....  The 11 million iPod number we arrive at comes from NPD data and [Piper Jaffray analyst] Gene Munster's unusual ability to give almost perfect forecasts on that iPod data."

We'll revisit these estimates after the quarterly earnings report and see how well Zaky and the amateurs did. Meanwhile, for more on how the big-name Apple analysts stack up, see Yahoo Finance's "Star Analysts" chart and AAPLinvestors' Analyst Ratings.

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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