Munster pops Apple hype balloon: no new gizmos until June’s iPhone 5S launch

apple-stockWe’ve chided Piper Jaffray’s well-known resident Apple analyst Gene Munster for his repeated predictions of a standalone Apple television set being just around the corner. However, this time we’re giving Munster credit for trying to deflate the hype balloon which has taken Apple stock and consumers for a ride fueled by unreal expectations. The analyst is just the latest Wall Street figure hoping to inject reality into a belief that the Cupertino, Calif. iPhone maker was immune to the vagaries of mortal businesses – such as down periods.

In a note to his clients, Munster walked a fine line, laying out some uncomfortable numbers for a company that hasn’t reported negative figures in a decade. Along the way, he also tested the waters of delayed gratification during a time investors appear more like strung-out addicts accustom to quarter after quarter of mind-blowing revenue from Apple…

According to Munster (via Fortune’s Philip Elmer-DeWitt), Apple will report second-quarter revenue of $41.3 billion – below the Street’s $42.8 billion and on the low end of the firm’s own $41-$43 billion guidance.

Yesterday, Philip Elmer-DeWitt reported Wall Street was forecasting lower quarterly income, yet record revenue.

Munster also forecasts Apple will announce lower-than-expected iPhone sales (35.5 million versus 37 million) and Mac demand of 3.8 million compared to more than 4 million projected by the Street.

We explained how observers are worried about lower gross margins for Apple. While Wall Street consensus is for around 40 percent, Munster is preparing his clients for 38 percent. Apple’s guidance – which is usually discounted as too cautious – is for between 37.5 percent and 38.5 percent.

iPhone 5S (Martin uit Utrecht 001)
Rumor mills see the iPhone 5S in a bunch of colors some time this summer

Why do we care about gross margins, a number which unlike revenue or sales is hard to wrap your mind around? A company’s gross margin is a great way to forecast how well a firm can convert sales into profit.

For a long period, Apple’s gross margin has been the envy of competitors and one reason the smartphone maker can be outsold numerically by Android but still bank billions of dollars.

iTV under Christmas tree
A mythical iTV remains an area of intense focus for Gene Munster

In terms of new products – which is believed to have dented Apple’s margins during the second period – Munster doesn’t foresee anything major happening until June. We may see some products upgraded in April, but the announcement won’t be enough to affect the company’s stock. Again, the analyst tries to throw cold water or any thoughts of a quick turn-around.

iWatch graphic
An Apple smartwatch, another rumored gadget analysts are calling for.

Although we might seen new hardware in June, he predicts Apple’s June quarter will result in lower-than-expected revenue: $36 to $38 billion versus a Thomson Finance consensus of $40.2 billion.

Budget iPhone (Martin Hajek 001)
A rumored less-pricey iPhone with a polycarbonate body, a no brainer for some.

So, when can investors jump back on the Apple bandwagon?

Wait until the second half of this year for the company to spring back, Munster advises.

“We believe the risk reward to owning shares of AAPL is favorable given the back half of the year will likely have several product announcements that should reaccelerate earnings growth from a negative 14 percent in the first half of 2013 to a positive 15 percent in the back half,” the analyst predicts.

He said the March quarterly report and the June guidance “will likely mark the turning point” for Apple, retaining the analyst’s Overweight rating and $767 share price target.