Apple 2.0

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Downgrade Apple from 'neutral' to 'unfavorable'? Seriously?

August 21, 2011: 7:48 AM ET

If anyone has access to Channel Trend's latest report on Apple, I would love to see it (Update: Got it!)

Source: Channel Trend

On Saturday night, this headline flashed across one of the news feeds I use to follow the analysts who track Apple (AAPL):

"On August 20, 2011 Channel Trend Inc. downgraded APPLE INC.from NEUTRAL to UNFAVORABLE."

My first thought was "seriously?" My second was "tell me more."

I've seen some boneheaded advice issued by Wall Street analysts, but this downgrade -- published at this time, on this stock -- strikes me as the dumbest thing I've read in some time.

But maybe I'm wrong.

So I would like to know more about Channel Trend and the calculations that went behind this rating change. I've requested more information, both from the Palm Beach Gardens, FL, address listed on the firm's website and the Dallas, TX, address listed at Investorside Research.

Meanwhile, I have learned this much:

The company was founded, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, in 1982. Its principals are Allen F. Campbell (CEO) and William H. Keller (president).

Source: LinkedIn

Campbell is a Columbia-trained lawyer (1967) and University of Chicago MBA (1972) who worked for Bear Stearns in the distant past and founded a medical diagnostics company called International Murex Technologies that was acquired in the mid-1990s by Abbott Laboratories (ABT). His LinkedIn profile photo shows a cat wearing a yin-yang sweatband.

Keller, who has a degree in finance from Pace University, seems to be the guy who runs the firm's models. He doesn't have a LinkedIn profile, but according to his Businessweek bio, he's been interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, Barrons, Kiplingers and Forbes and made guest appearances on CNBC and Bloomberg.

The firm issues, according to Fidelity.com, weekly reports on roughly 4,000 stocks based on technical and fundamental analysis using three proprietary models:

"First, a projected price for the stock is determined using a price behavior model. Next, a fundamental fair value for the stock is calculated, using both a valuation model and a risk model. A weighted combination of the expected returns based upon these two processes is then compared to other stocks in similar economic sectors as well as to approximately 4,000 of the most widely followed U.S. equities. The price behavior model has the heaviest weighting. The result of this comparison is a relative rank for each of the stocks."

Source: Yahoo Finance/AAPL

I'm eager to learn how, given Apple's fundamentals, Channel Trend's models could produce a "neutral" -- never mind "unfavorable" -- rating at a time when, according to Thomson/Firstcall, 52 of Campbell and Keller's fellow Apple analysts have issued either a "buy or a "strong buy," three have a "hold" on the stock and only one (the notorious Alex Gauna of JMP Securities) is telling his clients to sell.

Given that it's Sunday morning, Channel Trend can be forgiven for not getting right back to me.

But perhaps one of my readers has a copy of the firm's latest report on Apple? If so, I'd be happy to post it for the rest to see.

UPDATE: Bingo! Below, courtesy of reader Keith Wheeler, the Channel Trend report that downgraded Apple. The key problem seems to be the model's projected price of $307.84, a number that is not explained and which is nearly 40% below the Street's mean target of $494.79.

. . .

FYI, Susanne Craig has an article in the Sunday New York Times that sheds some light on what a good tech analyst can make these days. After falling out of favor in the wake of the dot.com bubble, their salaries are reportedly headed back up, especially for what Craig calls "the supposed seers of Bubble-Tech 2.0." No Apple analysts are mentioned, but she does offer three data points: (I quote)

  • Douglas Anmuth was lured to JPMorgan Chase earlier this year with a pay package valued at roughly $2 million. He had been making about $1.3 million at Barclays Capital, an arm of the British bank.
  • Heather Bellini landed at Goldman Sachs with a remarkable pay package worth almost $3 million.
  • And Mark Mahaney, whom JPMorgan tried to hire with an offer of about $3 million, stayed on at Citigroup — after getting a raise.

Click to enlarge. Source: Channel Trend

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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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