Apple's Q4 2011: A tale of three wildly different estimates

September 25, 2011: 5:18 PM ET

Between the company, the Street and the amateur analysts, a range of $9.4 billion

Click to enlarge. Data: Company reports, Thomson Financial, Apple 2.0

Apple's (AAPL) fourth fiscal quarter of 2011 ended Saturday, and depending whose estimates you believe, it was either a ho-hum quarter or a record-smasher.

The chart at right shows the actual revenue and earnings per share for the previous 11 quarters -- Q1 2009 through Q3 2011. In the last three columns we've plotted three pairs of data points for the 12th quarter, Q4 2011:

  • The company's guidance (offered in July):
    Earnings per share of $5.50 on sales of $25 billion
  • The consensus of 42 professional analysts (via Thomson Financial):
    Earnings of $7.10 on sales of $28.99 billion
  • The consensus of 7 amateur analysts (submitted to Apple 2.0):
    Earnings of $9.20 on sales of $34.36 billion

The company's guidance is, as usual, conservative (which is to say, in Apple's case, laughably low).

The Street's estimates -- which usually inch up in the weeks between the close of the quarter and the release of the results -- are less conservative but not much more credible. Do most analysts really believe Apple's earnings fell and its revenue stayed flat over the past three months?

The seven amateurs who have posted their estimates so far seem to be expecting revenue and earnings to continue what has been, with the exception of the Christmas quarters, straight line growth. As a result, their average revenue number is 19% higher and their EPS 30% higher than the Street's

We'll be tracking these estimates in more detail in the weeks ahead. We'll find out who was closest -- and furthest -- from the mark when Apple reports its Q4 earnings in mid-October.

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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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