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Apple served up with heaping of baloney

Commentary - The important takeaway from Apple's earnings call earlier today was the news that the company was keeping $54 billion of its $81 billion cash stockpile outside of the United States. As the economic recovery in the United States continues to sputter, that disclousre may turn into Exhibit A for those who want to reduce the repatriation tax that American firms pay when returning foreign earnings to these shores.

But that tidbit is getting overlooked amid Apple's shocking earnings shortfall - the first since 2004 - and the concomitant chatter about how the miss may be a harbinger that the House that Steve built is starting to come unstuck.

Apple's SEC filing

Shocking, really? Um, well - no. To be sure, it's inevitable that the Apple juggernaut that we've come to know and worship is going to slow down one day. Maybe Samsung will steal a beat. Perhaps Research in Motion can dig itself out of its morass and recapture its previous mojo. Or some other contender we aren't watching suddenly surprises Apple. Such is the nature of the technology business. But that's not what's going on now.

Apple's fourth quarter dinged by iPhone 4S waiting game
bNet: Apple earnings

The post-earnings hyperventilating has to do with the fact that Apple disappointed Wall Street. Given how badly Wall Street has disappointed the country these last years, it's hard to muster much sympathy. But I digress. Fact is that "Wall Street" - more accurately the community of analysts who track the company - are quite familiar with the story beyond the headlines. Apple sold just under 17.1 iPhone compared with last quarter's 20.3 million units. On the surface, that might seem reason to question whether management blew it. But this is a case of comparing Apple with oranges. Unlike last year's iPhone 4 debut, Apple delayed the rollout of its newest iPhone until September, giving up a quarter's worth of potential sales. Given how Apple has already sold more than 4 million units of the iPhone 4S, it's likely going to be a killer finish to 2012.

This was one instance where Apple's famous paranoia about product leaks was understandable. Starting in the late spring and straight into the summer, bogus product rumors about the iPhone 5 sprouted seemingly each day. Given Apple's traditional silence about unannounced products and technologies, the repeated stories predicting one configuration or the other of the inevitable iPhone 5 likely gave more than a few smartphone shoppers to wait until the official announcement. And so they did. Apparently.

Asked to gauge the impact the rampant speculation hurt iPhone sales in the weeks prior to the launch of the 4S, now-permanent CEO Tim Cook was frank. "I certainly believe it was substantial," he said.

I have no opinion whether the post-earnings sell-off was justified. No can I intelligently comment on whether the stock amazing run-up these last many months made any sense either. I'll leave the world of puts, calls, options and `shmoptions' to the supposed experts. Those folks who sought an excuse to sell or go short now have one - iPhone sales disappointed. There it is in black and white. But my hunch is that as we close out 2012, this episode is going to wind up being another forgettable data point that somehow dominated the news transom far longer than was merited.

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