By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
January 25, 2012

Nothing but praise — after the ship had sailed — from folks who totally missed the boat 

A sampling of what Wall Street had to say overnight about Apple’s (AAPL) first fiscal quarter earnings report:

Barclay’s Ben Reitzes: No “Law of Large Numbers” Here. 
The upside Apple posted for the December quarter was beyond all of our most bullish scenarios, especially for iPhones and iPads. Most importantly, it seems momentum can continue given low channel inventories and demand in China. We look forward to several new product cycles this calendar year including a new line of iPads, an iPhone 5, and new Macs. In addition, we may hear more around a potential dividend and Apple’s entry into the TV business during CY12 as well. With all of these drivers, Apple remains our top pick in the sector. Price target: $630, up from $555.

RBC’s Mike Abramsky: iDominance! Strong Q1 results offer an early vote of confidence for CEO Tim Cook and team, and the strong guidance shows continued momentum from product cycles and expanding markets (Asia/emerging markets Q2–Q3). We remain constructive on the shares and view valuation (8x ex-cash) as compelling. Risks to our outlook include: 1) transitional risks post-Steve Jobs; 2) unexpected competitive gains; 3) margin erosion; and 4) “law of large numbers.” Reiterate outperform. Price target: $600 (up from $525).

Morgan Stanley’s Katy HubertyApple reported the cleanest and strongest EPS beat in recent history. New iPad 3 and iPhone 5 will help maintain sales momentum in 2012 and increasing possibility of cash return could re-rate the stock toward IBM’s multiple range of 12-13x P/E. Raising price target to $515.

JMP Securities’ Alex GaunaWe reiterate our Market Perform rating for Apple following a blowout F1Q12 earnings report. Upside revenues of $46.3B (+64%q/q, +73%y/y) represented substantial growth reacceleration and drove a crushing non-GAAP EPS beat of $13.87 (JMP $9.65, Street $10.08). The stock was up almost 10% in aftermarket reaction and as embarrassing as it is for us to have a Market Perform rating on the stock into such a powerful result, we are electing to remain on the sidelines at this juncture given the risk of this proving to be a peak margins and growth quarter, elevated litigation uncertainty, and management transitions.  Target price: “NA”

ISI’s Brian Marshall: When the Apple is Ripe, it will Fall…however, this AAPL is still growing on the Tree. With minimal “real” competitive threats to AAPL’s major product families in CY12, we believe the outlook for the next 4 quarters can be characterized as “smooth sailing…” We think the road for the “AAPL cart” is relatively smooth over the next few quarters. Price target: $515.

CitiGroup’s Richard Gardner: Firing on All Cylinders. Revenue and EPS of $46.3B and $13.87 were well above consensus $39.1B and $10.09 driven by better-than-expected units across the entire product portfolio. Particularly impressive was the 37M iPhone shipments, which drove more than half of the EPS upside. Although the lack of hardware re-design was initially criticized, the iPhone 4S experienced strong demand through the qtr supported by pent-up demand and additional carrier relationships. Target: $600 up from $500.

Piper Jaffray’s Gene MunsterStrong Dec. Results A Precursor To Monster 2012. We believe investors are missing the potential long term upside of Apple’s current market expansion and future upgrade cycles. Based on our research, we estimate that 70% of iPhones sold in the US were upgrades from previous iPhones. We believe 30% of iPhone sales were from buyers going from iPhone 4 to iPhone 4S. Lastly, our research suggests 94% of iPhone owners expect to re-buy an iPhone.  Price target: $670 up from $607.

BTIG’s Walter Piecyk: Apple Target up to $600 after Blowout Fiscal Q1. The most impressive element of the quarter was clearly the 37 million iPhones that were sold during the quarter which topped our street high estimate of 35 million and produced an ASP that actually grew from the prior year, a clear indication of the popularity of the higher priced iPhone 4S. We believe Apple is gaining additional momentum on Android which suffers with a fragmented product portfolio and uneven customer experience and RIM’s lack of interesting product. As an example, we estimate that Verizon’s non-iPhone smartphone base actually declined in Q4 while the iPhone base grew by more than 4 million. Price target: $600, up from $580. 

Deutsche Bank’s Chris Whitmore: Product pipeline is stacked. We believe Apple’s new product portfolio remains incredibly strong.  Specifically, we expect iPad 3 in C1Q12 followed by an iPhone 5 refresh in the Fall.  In addition, we expect Macs with Ivy Bridge should support incremental share gains and Apple TV appears set to graduate from an “Apple hobby” later this year.  We anticipate an iOS device with Siri user interface and iCloud synching has the potential to redefine the smart TV category in the same way iPhone and iPad impacted the smartphone and tablet markets, respectively.  Meanwhile, we expect iPad 3 to enter the tablet market as most competitors are refocusing their efforts on Windows 8 tablets. Price target: $600 up from $530.

Evercore Partners’ Rob Cihra: That’s a Lotta iPhones. Huge free cash flow of $16.2B drove Apple’s ballooning net cash/investments to an almost absurd $97.6B or $104/share, with investor hopes continuing to grow for some sort of dividend and mgt at least sounding somewhat more open to the idea. Price target: $650 up from $600.

Next up: Macworld/iWorld in San Francisco.

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