FORTUNE -- Apple's (AAPL) share price got clobbered in after-hours trading three months ago when the company announced its earnings for the Christmas quarter. The problem was not the record sales of Macs, iPads and iPhones -- although the iPhone numbers came in a bit lighter than expected.
No, what knocked nearly $45 billion off Apple's market cap that night was Apple's "guidance" for the March quarter -- the sales and profit margin numbers it suggested investors could look forward to later this week, when it reports its second fiscal quarter results of 2014.
If Steve Jobs were still running the company, Wall Street might have discounted those forward looking statements, knowing that Jobs liked to low-ball his guidance numbers so as to maximize the upside "surprise" when Apple hit them out of the park.
But Tim Cook doesn't seem to like surprises; he prefers more "realistic" guidance. So when outgoing CFO Peter Oppenheimer said Apple would probably generate revenues between $42 and $44 billion in Q2 2014 -- no better than it did in the same quarter last year -- Wall Street took him at his word and started dumping the stock.
The lesson was not lost on the amateur and professional analysts we polled in advance of Wednesday's earnings call. Their revenue and earnings estimates in the Jobs era were all over the lot. Starting in Q2 2013, however lines representing the two groups in the attached charts began to converge and are now nearly congruent.
So what are our analysts expecting this week?
No surprises, that's for sure. The average revenue estimate of the 37 analysts we've heard from so far -- 14 amateurs and 23 pros -- is 43.5 billion, just above the midpoint of Oppenheimer's range.
The amateurs, as usual, are a bit more bullish. They're calling for earnings of $10.53 per share on sales of $43.66 billion. The pros are not far behind: earnings of $10.18 on sales of $43.42 billion.
High estimate: The Braeburn Group's Patrick Smellie at earnings per share of $11.05. Low: Credit Suisse's Kulbinder Garcha with a $9.66 EPS.
We'll post the full spreadsheet with all the analysts estimates later this week. And on Wednesday, we'll find out who was closest to the mark.
And what about the June quarter?
In a note to clients Monday, Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster predicted that Apple's guidance would once again disappoint. He's expecting revenue guidance of $35.5-$37.5 billion, a bit lower than the Street's $38.3 billion, and gross margin guidance of 36.5-37.5%, with a bit more upside than the Street's 36.5%.
Can Cupertino still pull a rabbit out of the hat? We'll find out this afternoon.
FORTUNE -- "We believe fundamentally that people love surprises."
That was Tim Cook explaining to ABC's David Muir Friday why he wasn't going to answer any questions about future devices. Like Steve Jobs, Cook believes in the big reveal, on stage, with the global media watching -- at least when it comes to new products and services.
For quarterly financial MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Jan 27, 2014 10:15 AM ET
Average estimate: $14.32 per share on sales of $57.9B. Apple's guidance: $55 to $58B.
FORTUNE -- On Monday, after the markets close, Apple (AAPL) is scheduled to announce its results for the first fiscal quarter of 2014, and we'll get to test not just the forecasts of our cadre of Apple analysts -- a mix of pros and amateurs -- but the accuracy of Apple's predictions under the new regime.
In the MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Jan 24, 2014 9:52 AM ET
On Monday, Apple will release its fiscal Q4 results. Some analysts have already moved on.
FORTUNE -- Bullish Cross' Andy Zaky, whose rise and spectacular fall as an Apple (AAPL) hedge fund manager is the stuff of investor legend, no longer cares what the company says on Monday about last quarter's sales and earnings.
And that's quite a change.
It was Zaky who first started pitting amateur Apple analysts against Wall Street's professionals MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Oct 27, 2013 10:37 AM ET
The Street's expectations for fiscal Q3 2013 are down at least 5% since early March
FORTUNE -- Although Apple (AAPL) investors are plenty nervous about next week's March quarter earnings report, the stock's drop to 16-month lows this week may have more to do with jitters about the next report -- the one for the quarter that ends in June.
The Street's consensus as of Friday, according to Thomson Financial's survey of MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Apr 20, 2013 8:26 AM ET
Over the past 8 quarters, it beat its EPS estimate by 42%, revenue by 18%
FORTUNE -- When it reports its results for the March quarter this afternoon, Apple (AAPL) will also release forward-looking statements about the June quarter in the form of three numbers: its guidance for revenue, earnings and gross margin.
The numbers Apple issues tend to be laughably conservative; the company always prefers to under- rather than over-promise. Nonetheless its MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Apr 24, 2012 8:15 AM ET
What to make of those pesky forward-looking statements in today's earnings report
It used to be that traders rewarded or punished Apple's (AAPL) shares right after its earnings releases based not on the sales it reported for the past quarter, but on what the company said about the quarter to come. Apple tends to "guide conservatively," in the jargon of the trade, which Wall Street often interpreted as a disappointment.
But that MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Jan 24, 2012 7:24 AM ET
A big Q3 is a given. Just look at what the stock has done lately. But the devil is in the details
The Street has fallen back in love with Apple (AAPL). "Get ready for the return of the wow factor," J.P. Morgan's Mark Moskowitz told clients last week just before the stock put the finishing touches on a 28-day, $58.48 (18.5%) run that took it to $373.80 Monday afternoon, an MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Jul 19, 2011 7:48 AM ET
What to watch for Monday when the company reports its fiscal fourth quarter earnings
Apple's (AAPL) shares have been on a tear since late August, soaring nearly $75 (more than 30%) to close Friday at an all-time record $314.74.
Whether that proves to be the top of a long bull run or the start of an even bigger one depends on how investors react to the results scheduled to be released at MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Oct 18, 2010 6:53 AM ET
Analysts either don't believe Apple's revenue guidance, or they're deliberately low-balling it
Anybody who follows its earnings reports can tell you that Apple (AAPL) guides conservatively, under-estimating its forward-looking numbers to demolish them at the end of the quarter.
Only once in the past 23 quarters -- in the summer of 2006 -- did it miss its revenue guidance, by 0.7%. In the other 22 the company beat its MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Jul 25, 2010 6:13 AM ET
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