Do analysts' forecasts really predict Apple's future or merely reflect the recent past?

By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
May 14, 2013

FORTUNE — Whenever I write about a change in a particular analyst’s price target for Apple AAPL  — his or her forecast of what the stock is likely to be worth in 12 months — readers invariably suggest that it would be more useful to show how that target has changed over time.

I think I know what’s behind these suggestions: A suspicion, especially after the gyrations of the past year, that the analysts who follow Apple are not so much predicting the stock’s future value as scrambling to catch up to what the market has already done.

I don’t have the data to test that thesis in a general way, but for many individual analysts it’s easily obtained: They provide a history of their forecasts as matter of course at the bottom of the notes they send to clients.

I attached a sample. For the period in question, I think the charts speak for themselves — although I must say that some speak a lot more clearly than others.

Goldman Sachs’ Bill Shope: 

Morgan Stanley’s Katy Huberty:

Bernstein’s Toni Sacconaghi: 

Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster:

Jefferies’ Peter Misek:

Needham’s Charlie Wolf:

BCG’s Colin Gillis: 

Merrill Lynch’s Scott Craig: 

You May Like