How the Market and Analysts Value Apple Ahead of Earnings

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) will dominate earnings season on Tuesday afternoon when it reports earnings. The stock has undergone its split, and no significant pullback has been seen. In fact, Wall Street analysts seem to have been stepping all over themselves to raise their target prices and/or formal ratings ahead of the earnings report.

Apple’s market cap is now almost $570 billion, but we may see an adjustment to that figure depending upon how much cash the company used in buying back stock. The acquisition of Beats may have been widely publicized, but it was effectively just a footnote.

Earnings expectations from Thomson Reuters were last represented as $1.23 per share and $37.93 billion in revenues for this past quarter (its fiscal third quarter). Apple’s guidance was $36 to $38 billion in revenue. Estimates for the coming quarter are $1.34 earnings per share and $40.44 billion in revenue. Apple is now valued on the market at 15 times expected 2014 earnings and 13.5 times expected 2015 earnings.

Gross margin last quarter was 39.3% (versus 37.5% a year earlier), and Apple guided its margin for this quarter in a range of between 37% and 38%. Keep in mind that international sales accounted for 66% of the last quarter’s revenue.

24/7 Wall St. has compiled an analyst rating montage to see how analysts are valuing the stock going forward. After closing at $94.43 on Friday, Apple’s 52-week post-split adjusted trading range is $59.82 to $97.10.

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What is interesting about Apple is that the focus may be more ahead on the new product and refresh cycle releases than on how its numbers were in the quarter, as iPhone and iPad sales may have stagnated in the United States. We also believe that a key focus will be how many shares Apple bought back now that Tim Cook and fellow management decided to get more aggressive on the stock front — the company used almost $21 billion buying back stock and paying dividends in the prior quarter.