By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
January 16, 2012

With Q1 earnings due next week, the Street and the bloggers are now $4.5 billion apart

Perhaps professional analysts are just more comfortable underestimating Apple (AAPL). Perhaps they’re still smarting from last quarter, when their numbers (for once) came in too high. Perhaps they’re suspicious of reports that suggest that Mac and iPhone and iPad sales have never been so strong.

For whatever reason, Wall Street’s estimates for what everybody seems to agree will be Apple’s best quarter ever look suspiciously low.

Our benchmark, as usual, is the consensus of the Apple independent analysts, a growing community of bloggers, private investors and assorted amateurs whose estimates over the years have proved considerably more accurate than Wall Street’s.

The Street’s consensus, to be sure, has been inching closer to the bloggers. Three months ago the pros were calling for earnings of $8.98 per share. Today, according to Thomson Reuters, the consensus EPS is $9.95.

But that’s still more than 20% below $11.96, the consensus offered by the independents.

In terms of revenue, the gap between the Street’s consensus ($38.58 billion) and the indies’ ($43.03 billion) is roughly equivalent to the gross national product of medium-size African nation.

The disparity is even more striking when you look at individual calls. The EPS estimates range from a low of $8.88 filed by Gabelli’s Hendi Susanto to a high of $12.80 from Navin Nagrani of AAPL Independent Analysts.

Below: The estimates for individual analysts (bloggers in green, pros in blue) with the date of their estimates and their rank as determined by the accuracy of their revenue and EPS estimates over the past four quarters. We’ll find out who is closest to the mark this time when Apple reports its earnings on Jan. 24.

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