A long-time Apple bull tries to lower investors' expectationsMarch 26, 2013: 6:43 AM ET
Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster says growth may not return until the back half of 2013
FORTUNE -- In February, Gene Munster predicted that Apple (AAPL) would get a boost this quarter from product announcements in March or April.
With March almost over and the quarter ending on Saturday, Piper Jaffray's senior Apple analyst issued a note to clients Tuesday warning that the company will have to get through a dry patch before things start looking up again, and that Wall Street's lowered expectations are still too high.
- He now expects no major product announcements until June. Even if there is an April event, he says, it's likely to focus on incremental upgrades to the iPad and/or iTunes, and is unlikely to move shares one way or the other.
- He expects Apple's revenues for this quarter to come in at $41.3 billion -- at the low end of the company's $41-$43 billion guidance and below the Street's current consensus of $42.8 billion, as reported by Thomson Finance.
- He's looking for iPhone sales of 35.5 million and Mac sales of 3.8 million, considerably below the 37 million iPhones and 4.2 million Macs he says are implied by the Street's revenue expectations.
- In terms of gross margin, he believes the Street is factoring in a 39%-40% margin. He's expecting 38%, right in the middle of the company's 37.5% to 38.5% guidance.
- Apple could also disappoint the Street with its June guidance. Thomson Finance has the consensus at $40.2 billion. Munster thinks it will be closer to $36 to $38 billion.
- Finally, in terms of cash management, he expects only a modest dividend increase -- from the current $10.60 a year to about $14 -- and no increase in Apple's stock buyback program.
All in all, it's a pretty pessimistic outlook from one of Apple's most loyal and enthusiastic supporters. It's almost as if Munster is deliberately lowering expectations so that Apple can deliver a positive surprise when it reports its Q2 2013 earnings next month.
Indeed, his conclusion is incongruously upbeat:
"We believe the risk reward to owning shares of AAPL is favorable given the back half of the year will likely have several product announcements that should reaccelerate earnings growth from a negative 14% in the first half of 2013 to a positive 15% in the back half. While we believe that current Street numbers are too high for March and June, we view the risk around the quarter and guide as small as the March report and June guide will likely mark the turning point as investors look to the back half opportunity with new product launches. We reiterate our Overweight and $767 price target."