FORTUNE -- Analysts are not looking for any big surprises this afternoon when Apple (AAPL) reports its earnings for the last fiscal quarter of 2013.
Sales are expected to be up slightly from last year and earnings down once again -- the first time in a decade income has fallen three quarters in a row. (See Final estimates for Apple's Q4 2013.)
Guidance for the December quarter should be modestly positive. (See Looking forward.)
But beyond the numbers, Wall Street is looking for something else. Two years after Steve Jobs died, investors want assurance that Tim Cook knows what he's doing.
We won't hear about any new products today, and concerns about Apple's long-term vision will have to wait. But we may learn something about some of the more pressing questions swirling around the company.
With competition heating up and key markets approaching saturation, these come to mind:
Anything I'm missing?
The analysts who are invited to participate in the company's conference calls are not always the best at asking these kinds of questions, but you never know.
We'll be listening in. You can too.
LINK: Apple Financial Results Conference Call. Live streaming audio starts at 5 p.m. Eastern, 2 p.m. Pacific.
There were some inspired estimates, but nobody hit every nail on the head.
FORTUNE -- It's easy to make fun of Apple (AAPL) analysts -- and fun, too -- but in terms of their ability to accurately forecast the company's quarterly results, they've come a long way.
Two years ago, when Apple announced blow-out results that surprised nearly everybody, Wall Street's analysts missed the company's revenue and earnings by a combined average MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Jul 24, 2013 8:26 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
Solid quarter. Surprising cash plans. Worrisome guidance and lack of new products.
FORTUNE -- The reactions of analysts who tuned into Apple's (AAPL) earnings call Tuesday were all over the lot. There were things they liked, things they didn't and things they have to ponder some more.
Excerpts from the notes we've seen are posted below. This is our third and hopefully final take. Scroll to the bottom to see the notes MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Apr 24, 2013 10:16 AM ET
Apple management may have found a way to tame the wild beasts of Wall Street.
FORTUNE -- One of the independent Apple (AAPL) analysts we polled in advance of Tuesday's Q2 2013 earning report had to be coaxed into participating in our Earnings Smackdown competition this quarter. It wasn't that he was afraid of going up against Wall Street's professionals, he assured me. "It's just that I don't think there's any MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Apr 24, 2013 6:50 AM ET
Reports revenues of $43.6 billion on sales of 37.4 million iPhones and 19.5 million iPads. Profits are down, as expected. Boosts dividend 15% and stock buyback five-fold
FORTUNE -- Against the advice of outside analysts, Apple (AAPL) bundled its good news and bad news together and released it all at once Tuesday.
Although profits were down, as expected, it beat its own guidance and Wall Street's expectations -- selling a ton of MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Apr 23, 2013 4:57 PM ET
The forecasts of 67 analysts -- 44 Wall Street professionals and 23 independents
FORTUNE -- The results of Fortune's quarterly survey of Apple (AAPL) analysts are in. The pros, as usual, are more cautious than the independents -- but not that much. The gap between the two group's average estimates (summarized above) as as close as I've ever seen them, with the amateurs calling for revenues only 1.3% higher than professionals.
Below: MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Apr 23, 2013 12:36 PM ET
Its quarterly earnings report is a reality check on three months of speculation.
FORTUNE -- Today at about 4:30 p.m. Eastern, Apple (AAPL) will report its results for the March quarter, and the fog of rumors and speculation that has swirled around the company since January will lift -- if only for a day or two.
This is Apple's quarterly reality check, its chance to answer questions that have weighed on the MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Apr 23, 2013 8:26 AM ET
The expectations of institutions that sell and those that buy are two different things.
FORTUNE -- In a note to clients issued Monday afternoon, 24 hours before Apple (AAPL) is scheduled to release its earnings for the March quarter, Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster talked about something we don't hear much about: The so-called buy side.
Buy side is Wall Street jargon for those investing institutions such as mutual funds, pension funds and insurance MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Apr 22, 2013 7:17 PM ET
Monday morning quarterbacking before Apple's Tuesday afternoon earnings call.
FORTUNE --There are always a few stragglers who wait until the last minute to take a fresh look at their Apple (AAPL) spreadsheets -- some of which haven't been updated since January.
Below: Excerpts from the analysts' notes we've seen today. More as they come in, newest on top.
BGC's Colin Gillis: Jump in the fire, as any Apple good news could boost up the MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Apr 22, 2013 10:56 AM ET
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