FORTUNE -- Whenever I write about a change in a particular analyst's price target for Apple (AAPL) -- his or her forecast of what the stock is likely to be worth in 12 months -- readers invariably suggest that it would be more useful to show how that target has changed over time.
I think I know what's behind these suggestions: A suspicion, especially after the gyrations of the past year, that the analysts who follow Apple are not so much predicting the stock's future value as scrambling to catch up to what the market has already done.
I don't have the data to test that thesis in a general way, but for many individual analysts it's easily obtained: They provide a history of their forecasts as matter of course at the bottom of the notes they send to clients.
I attached a sample. For the period in question, I think the charts speak for themselves -- although I must say that some speak a lot more clearly than others.
Goldman Sachs' Bill Shope:
Morgan Stanley's Katy Huberty:
Bernstein's Toni Sacconaghi:
Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster:
Jefferies' Peter Misek:
Needham's Charlie Wolf:
BCG's Colin Gillis:
Merrill Lynch's Scott Craig:
Having rushed to lower their targets, some Apple analysts may have to reverse course.
FORTUNE -- When Apple (AAPL) touched $445.25 in early afternoon trading Tuesday, it did more than mark a $60.15 (15.6%) rise from its intraday low of $385.10 seven trading days earlier.
It also put Apple's stock price higher than the 12-month price targets of at least eight Wall Street analysts.
Four of those analysts -- Baird's William Power, BMO's MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Apr 30, 2013 10:57 AM ET
Of the 42 analysts we tracked, 22 reduced their targets an average of 12%.
FORTUNE -- The new dividend and share re-purchase plans Apple (AAPL) announced Tuesday may make the stock more attractive to investors. But the analysts who follow the company couldn't ignore its lower margin and revenue guidance. Their recommendations (Buy, Hold, Sell, etc.) didn't change, but more than half the analysts we polled lowered their 12-month price targets.
A MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Apr 25, 2013 7:50 AM ET
Some Apple analysts got burned on the way up, others on the way down.
FORTUNE -- Doesn't your heart go out to the Wall Street analysts who have to try to predict the future movement of Apple's (AAPL) shares?
Anybody who set a price target below $300 last year looked pretty stupid when the stock topped $700 in September. On the other hand, the guy with the $1,111 target had some explaining MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Apr 12, 2013 9:59 AM ET
Topeka's Brian White is sticking with $888. Bernstein's Toni Sacconaghi is still at $725.
FORTUNE -- After a string of analysts dropping their price targets in lockstep with Apple's (AAPL) falling shares, it's refreshing to hear from a couple of guys who haven't lowered their targets. Or at least not lately.
Bernstein's Toni Sacconaghi ($725, down from $800 last December) weighed in Tuesday with his views on the much-rumored Apple iWatch. He's MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Mar 19, 2013 12:53 PM ET
More selling pressure on Apple from reports that supplier orders have been cut
FORTUNE -- Apple's (AAPL) share price was hit again Monday morning after several analysts reported that the company's orders to its suppliers are down. According to Topeka's Brian White, who monitors these things on a monthly basis, February's report was the worst on record.
UPDATE: The stock recovered, to say the least, at the end of the day. See Apple shares MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Mar 11, 2013 10:20 AM ET
Barclays met with Apple execs. Citi asked suppliers. Merrill searched Google Trends
FORTUNE -- Apple (AAPL) gave up most of Tuesday's $9.66 (2.3%) gains in the first half hour of trading Wednesday after three analysts issued tepid reports:
Barclay's Ben Reitzes lowered his Apple price target to $530 from $575 after meeting with two senior VPs -- Phil Schiller and Peter Oppenheimer -- although he insists that his 8% reduction had nothing to MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Mar 6, 2013 11:41 AM ET
That's down from $740 a month ago
FORTUNE -- Wall Street engaged in a wholesale reevaluation of Apple's (AAPL) medium-term prospects last week following the company's Q1 2013 earnings report and Q2 guidance. Of the 36 analysts we polled, 33 lowered their price targets.
The new range, dropping any analyst who didn't respond, still covers a lot of ground. It travels all the way from $380 (submitted by Creative Global's Carlo Besenius, MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Jan 29, 2013 5:55 AM ET
William Power's opinions about Apple are as changeable as a baby's bottom
FORTUNE -- On Sunday, Baird Equity's William Power lowered his Apple (AAPL) price target for the second time in four days. That got me wondering how often he changes his mind about the company.
The answer, it turns out, is a lot: by my count, seven times in the past 12 months.
Starting at $500 last January, Power took his clients MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Jan 28, 2013 3:35 PM ET
In the past week, at least eight Apple analysts have lowered their targets
FORTUNE -- Some did it based on what they perceived as signs of weak iPhone 5 sales. Others took the opportunity to bring theirs closer to the company's ravaged stock price. At least one believes Apple's (AAPL) best days are over, and that investors are best advised to borrow shares and sell them short.
Whatever the reason, at least eight MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Dec 18, 2012 11:56 AM ET
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