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Warning bells over Apple’s iPod sales

24 января 2008

Apple shares fell sharply on Wednesday as weaker-than-expected iPod sales led several analysts to revise their expectations for turnover and earnings growth at a company that has been one of the best performers on Wall Street in recent years.

Warning bells over Apple’s iPod salesInvestors, nervous following sharp slides in world equity markets this week, took fright after Apple issued a tepid forecast for the second quarter on Tuesday.

The outlook – which was below most Wall Street expectations – sent shares in the company down more than 12 per cent in Tuesday’s after-hours trading.

That slide continued on Wednesday as analysts expressed concern over weaker iPod shipments than had been hoped for.

By midday, shares in the computer company had fallen 17.2 per cent to $128.91, wiping out more than $26bn from its market capitalisation overnight and extending a slide that had already seen the shares lose nearly a fifth of their value since they broke through $200 a share just a few weeks ago.

Shares closed down 10.7 per cent at $139.07 following the late-afternoon surge across the main US indices.

Apple said on Tuesday that it had shipped just over 22.1m of its signature portable music players during the three months ended in December, up just 5 per cent over the same time last year.

While the slower growth was offset somewhat by a shift towards higher-priced models, the fact that iPod growth rates may be beginning to level off has started to sound warning bells on Wall Street.

“This represents the first quarter of less than double-digit unit growth for [the] iPod,” wrote Richard Gardner, an analyst at Citigroup, in a research note.

“The Street is clearly concerned that iPod unit growth will deteriorate further in coming quarters, as consumer spending growth slows and [a] lack of compelling new product prompts customers to defer upgrades.”

The iPod has been the engine of Apple’s share growth for more than four years, contributing to a 16-fold increase in Apple’s market price since 2003.

Sales of Macintosh computers, which account for the bulk of Apple’s revenues, put in a strong showing in the first quarter, with unit growth up 44 per cent and revenues from Macs of 47 per cent – well ahead of the PC industry average.

Gene MUNSTER, an analyst at Piper Jaffray, says Apple is likely to rely on Mac sales for most of its top-line growth this year – a situation that could be complicated if a recession crimps consumer spending, causing customers to delay purchases or seek out cheaper PC substitutes.

Meanwhile, any gap in Mac or iPod sales is unlikely to be offset this year by sales of the iPhone, Apple’s long-awaited mobile handset.

Apple on Tuesday said it had sold 2.3m iPhones in the first quarter, bringing the total number of the devices sold since its launch in June to just over 4m.

While that marks a solid start for Apple’s much-vaunted mobile product, it is unlikely that iPhone sales will grow fast enough to offset possible slower growth in iPods for several more quarters.

In spite of these concerns, most analysts remain bullish on Apple’s long-term prospects.

“Apple has fundamental and valuation underpinnings, which should allow the stock to outperform . . . longer term, and we are maintaining our buy rating,” says David BAILEY at Goldman Sachs.

Источник: Financial Times

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