Bearish grunts from a pair of Apple bulls

April 21, 2009, 3:29 PM UTC

You know Apple (AAPL) is in for a bumpy quarter when both Gene Munster and Andy Zaky sound bearish notes in advance of the company’s fiscal Q2 earnings report — due out Wednesday after the markets close.

Munster, a senior research analyst at Piper Jaffray, is one of Apple’s strongest supporters among the mainstream analysts. And Zaky, who writes a blog called Bullish Cross, is best known for his quarterly analyst smackdowns, in which bloggers who follow the stock challenge the pros to do a better job than they at predicting Apple’s numbers.

Neither man has turned negative on Apple. Munster retains his “buy” rating and is sticking to his price target of $180 a share — one of the highest in the industry. And Zaky, while acknowledging that the Street’s consensus estimates for Q2 — earnings of $1.09 a share on revenue of $7.94 billion — are “more fairly stated” than they’ve been in recent quarters, still expects Apple to beat them.

Munster, however, issued a report to clients Tuesday in which he predicts that Apple will miss the Street’s consensus on both revenue (by a hair) and earnings (by a mile). See chart:

And while Zaky believes the Street is still too cautious, he has become uncharacteristically pessimistic about Apple’s near-term prospects.

Bullish Cross is readjusting its outlook on Apple to a view that is more commensurate with the increasingly bleak economic environment,” he wrote in a post published Monday on Seeking Alpha. “Given the relatively high lack of transparency with regard to iPhone and Macintosh sales going forward, Bullish Cross holds an increasingly cautious view with regard to Apple’s fundamentals and earnings estimates in 2009.”

Given that Munster expects Apple to meet or beat the consensus on Mac, iPhone and iPod sales, it’s hard to understand at first glance why his earnings estimate is so low — $.98 per share vs. the Street’s $1.09 and Zaky’s $1.19. But in Tuesday’s report he explains that he calculated that $.98 using the guidance on gross margins that Apple issued in January (32.5%). Using the gross margins Apple enjoyed in Q1 (34.7%) his EPS estimate jumps to $1.11.

Given how easily Zaky expects Apple to beat the consensus on revenue and EPS — and how loudly he has railed in the past at analysts too “clueless” to follow Apple’s iPhone accounting — he is surprisingly toned-down this quarter. He has even canceled his quarterly smackdown.

His new “agnostic” attitude toward Apple may have something to do with the fact that Wall Street seems to have come around to his view of the company, driving Apple’s shares up 24% in the past month. It may also have something to do with the disclosure at the end of his post:


: No Position in Apple.

It turns out that Zaky, who has been heavily invested in Apple all this time, has sold his shares.

Apple’s quarterly earnings call is scheduled for Wednesday, April 22, at 5 p.m. ET (2 p.m. PT). Tune in here for live coverage and analysis.

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