(AAPL) Apple Earnings Misses Forecast in the Fourth Quarter

For the first time in recent memory, Apple Inc. (AAPL) has missed EPS expectations for its fiscal 4th quarter of 2011. The greatest gadget-maker in the history of the world also came short on revenues for the quarter. Earnings of $7.05 per share on $28.3 billion in revenues missed the Zacks Consensus Estimates of $7.31 and $29.5 billion, respectively.

Clearly, the culprit was iPhone sales — 17.07 iPhones were sold in the September quarter, whereas expectations were for roughly 20 million iPhones to ring up. iPad sales of 11.12 million units was generally in-line with estimates. Macs actually set an all-time record 4.89 million units sold and above the expected 4.5 million in sales, but this fact has been eclipsed by Apple’s disappointment on the headline numbers.

According to several analysts, it is likely that potential iPhone customers were waiting for the release of an updated version of the popular smartphone, and iPhone 4S didn’t come out until after the quarter ended. That the new iPhone 4S model moved 4+ million units in its opening weekend would support this notion, and iPhone sales are likely to see a nice rebound next quarter.

But it’s tough to ignore that the first quarter Apple missed estimates since 2004 happened the very first quarter in which the late, great Steve Jobs stepped down as CEO. Apple had become known for trouncing its estimates, then setting a rather low bar for guidance (even though the numbers they’d expect were better than anyone else’s on the planet). Perhaps those types of gaudy earnings beats are a thing of the past?

Thing is, analysts had lately stopped believing Apple’s guidance numbers. What started out the quarter as a Zacks Consensus Estimate of $6.70 per share for the quarter ballooned up to $7.31 as of this week. No fewer than 16 upward revisions had taken place on AAPL stock for Q4 in just the past month alone. We will keep a close eye on how analysts react to guidance on Apple’s conference call.

Shares of AAPL stock, which were up only mildly during regular trading today — though still at all-time highs — have pulled back fairly dramatically after-hours. When is the last time anyone can remember Apple shares falling 6.5%? Hmmm…

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