Why Apple's Late iPhone Harvest Hurt Its Stock Price

Why Apple's Late iPhone Harvest Hurt Its Stock Price
Why Apple's Late iPhone Harvest Hurt Its Stock Price

It's amazing what a few weeks means when it comes to releasing Apple's (AAPL) latest version of its iPhone and the proximity of a quarter's close. Just ask Apple investors who watched the stock drop nearly 5.6% to $398.62 Wednesday, after the company missed its Wall Street estimates on lower than expected iPhone sales.

During Apple's earnings call Tuesday, CEO Tim Cook pointed to the rampant rumors during the second half of the quarter surrounding a new iPhone product release, causing consumers to hold off purchasing an iPhone months ahead of its actual Oct. 4 debut.

Really? Maybe it wasn't so much the rumors that hurt Apple's iPhone sales during the quarter, but rather the timing of when they announced and released the new iPhone.

Past Releases Are No Guarantee of Future Unveilings

Historically, Apple has announced its new iPhone version in the first week of the last month in the quarter. That strategy allows a buffer to the iPhone rumor mill and a decline in sales that typically takes place in the months before an iPhone release.

As a result, by the time the quarter is rounding its third month, Apple has made up for lost time and captured those early adopter customers who delayed an iPhone purchase in anticipation of the latest model.

This time, however, all the rumor mill hype and delayed buying came toward the second half of the quarter, so Apple wasn't able to capture all those buyers at the quarter's close.

Imagine if Apple were able to release its iPhone 4S at least a week before its fourth quarter closed. According to Cook, three days after the iPhone 4S launched, Apple sold more than 4 million of the handsets, compared with the 1.7 million iPhone 4 devices sold within the same period.

If you fold in those 4 million-plus iPhone 4S devices sold within a three-day period to the nearly 17.1 million iPhones Apple sold during the fourth quarter, it would total in excess of 21 million units. That puts it in line with the approximately 20 million units that Wall Street had expected for the quarter.

Bad Timing?

Investors would be wise to keep a watchful eye on any iPhone product delays, but more importantly the timing within the quarter of when they are expected to be released.

"It is a valid concern, but in this case I think the timing is a one-off event," says Ashok Kumar, an analyst with Rodman & Renshaw. Kumar suspects the declining health of the late Steve Jobs, Apple's co-founder and former CEO, changed the schedule of the iPhone 4S release.

And the effect of that change may be something Apple's competitors such as Research in Motion (RIMM), Motorola Mobility (MMI), and Google's (GOOG) Android smartphone partners may want to keep in mind.

Here's a look at Apple's previous iPhone announcements and how its earnings fared against Wall Street's expectations:

iPhone 4S

iPhone 4

  • June 7, 2010: iPhone 4 announced (first week of last month in the quarter).

  • June 26, 2010: Apple's third quarter ends.

  • July 20, 2010: Apple reports third-quarter earnings of $3.51 a share on $15.8 billion in revenues. That beats analysts' expectations of $2.84 a share, as well as revenue estimates. According to an AppleInsider report, analysts were expecting Apple to generate $14.7 billion. Apple came within a hair of meeting analysts' iPhone sales in the quarter, selling 8.4 million devices verses the 8.5 million analysts expected.

iPhone 3GS

  • June 9, 2009: iPhone3GS announced (second week of last month in the quarter).

  • June 27, 2009: Apple's third quarter ends.

  • July 21, 2009: Apple reports third-quarter earnings of $2.05 a share on revenues of $9.73 billion, beating analysts' expectations, according to a CNN Money report. Additionally, the company sold 5.21 million iPhones in the quarter, blasting through Wall Street's expectations of 4 million handsets sold.

iPhone 3

  • June 9, 2008: iPhone 3 announced (second week of last month of the quarter).

  • June 28, 2008: Apple's third quarter ends.

  • July 21, 2008: Apple reports third-quarter earnings of $1.21 a share on $7.46 billion in revenues for the quarter, beating analysts' estimates of $1.08 a share on $7.37 billion in revenues, according to a Houston Chronicle report.

The next time Apple thinks it'll be late rolling out its iPhone, it may want to consider pushing the announcement deep into the quarter. Although consumers clamoring for a new iPhone wouldn't be happy, it may be offset by an appreciation from Apple investors.

Motley Fool contributor Dawn Kawamoto does not own shares in any of these companies listed. Her hubby, however, does own an iPhone, which her daughter frequently commandeers. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of and creating a bull call spread position in Apple.