By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
May 13, 2011

The stock is up 330% since its 2008 low, but that’s really nothing to write home about

In an article posted Friday on Seeking Alpha, contributor Andy Zaky takes aim at a phrase that has attached itself to Apple (AAPL) recently: “the darling of Wall Street.” (Google it; you’ll be surprised how often it pops up in the financial press.)

Apple is a darling, the thinking goes, because the stock has risen more than 330% from $80.49, the low it hit on Nov. 20, 2008, in the middle of the subprime mortgage crisis.

But as Zaky points out, Apple had no business trading for $80 a share in a quarter in which its earnings grew 155%. Moreover, that breakneck growth has hardly slowed. Over the past five quarters, Apple’s EPS grew 86.0%, 74.6%, 67.5%, 75.2% and 92.2%, respectively.

Yet the stock has been going nowhere since October. It closed at $346.57 Thursday, up only 8.6% in seven months. The NASDAQ-100 (QQQ), by contrast, has rallied 18.22% over the same time period.  Even the broader S&P 500 (SPY) has outperformed Apple, posting 16.2% gains since October.

Apple’s price to earnings ratio — the value of the stock as measured by Wall Street — has actually been shrinking, as Zaky’s chart shows. Is that how the Street rewards its “darling”?

” What’s next?” he asks. “A janitor living in Manhattan is called rich because he received a 5% pay raise increasing his salary to $20,000 a year?”

“What it should always comes down to is valuation,” Zaky writes.

“Yet … we see Google (GOOG) report 17% earnings growth and trade a 20 P/E ratio and then watch Apple report 92% earnings growth and trade at a 16 P/E ratio…  Amazon (AMZN) misses earnings expectation for the third time in five quarters, grows at a far lower growth rate than Apple on both the top and bottom line and trades at a 90 P/E ratio.  Netflix (NFLX) also misses expectations, grows at a far lower growth rate than Apple on both the top and bottom line and trades at a 70.58 P/E ratio.”

To give a better sense of how Apple — the company, not the stock — is growing, Zaky offers several charts, which with his permission we’ve reproduced below:

You Zaky’s article is entitled “Apple’s P/E Ratio Falls to Lowest Level Since Financial Crisis Despite 92% Earnings Growth” and is available here.

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