The new king of Apple analysts

October 22, 2010, 11:48 AM UTC

He’s a Romanian blogger with a Harvard MBA who lives in Finland. Go figure.

Horace Dediu. Photo: Rami Salle

What if you took all the estimates by all the analysts who write about Apple (AAPL) — and there are dozens — and ranked them by how closely their predictions matched the company’s quarterly earnings reports. Would you be interested in who came in first?

Daniel Tello, a Venezuelan amateur with a strong track record of his own, has done that for the past three quarters (see list here and below the fold). The man you see at right rose to the top.

His name is Horace Dediu, and Wall Street could learn a thing or two from him.

He’s a 42-year-old Romanian engineer who started following Steve Jobs and company two years ago while doing market analysis for Nokia (NOK). His day job was to track Research in Motion (RIMM), not Apple.  “Apple wasn’t considered an interesting or valid threat, even in 2008,” he recalls.

But from reading the analysts reports he was getting at Nokia, he could tell that none of them understood the subscription accounting method Apple was using at the time to record iPhone sales. “I knew they were wrong,” he says. So he built his own spreadsheet.

“My model is very simple,” he says. “I look at growth rate.”

Source: Deagol's AAPL Model. Click to enlarge.

“My basic investment thesis was that the iPhone was going to be much much bigger than anyone knew. The market is so huge — 1.2 billion phones a year — and Apple’s penetration is only 2%. So there isn’t any problem with demand. It’s all about production issues and how to deliver supply to this market.”

Dediu started with the assumption that iPhone sales would grow 100% a year if Apple could build the devices fast enough — a big if.

“The reason Apple is so constrained,” he says, “is that they are so motivated to improve product. They are always ramping up and ramping down. Always launching in summer, trying to reach peak for Christmas. The question is, how steeply can they ramp up? Each time is different.

“The next question is, will the iPad follow the same cycle? Will it launch every year in the spring?  Will they keep the older generation around at a lower price point? These are questions we don’t have answers for yet. But I think the iPad can also ramp up at 100% each year.”

Dediu started sharing his estimates with other amateurs at The Mac Observer’s Apple Finance Board. “Andy Zaky, Turley Muller and Daniel Tello — they were like superstars for me,” he says.

In July 2009, he started posting Apple commentary on his Asymco blog. The site has grown quickly — last month it drew 388,000 page views — but earns nowhere near enough to support his wife and five-year-old young son. Meanwhile, he’s developing some apps and working a few consulting gigs that came to him from readers.

The community of Apple blogger-analysts is a small one, and Dediu — a relative newcomer —  has earned the grudging respect of his peers.

“He’s good, but not infallible,” says Tello, who posts his estimates on Deagol’s AAPL Model. “His best skill is that he can put these complex market dynamics in plain English, and with a nice touch of humor/sarcasm to boot.” (And, we might add, with smart graphics that have been featured many times in this space. See, for just a few examples, here, here and here.)

Financial Alchemist’s Turley Muller, who has the best long-term track record of the bunch (he was No. 1 in our quarterly Earnings Smackdown for seven quarters in a row and had the best revenue estimate again last quarter) is withholding judgment until he sees more than two quarters of data from Dediu. “Horace is good and he’s been lucky,” says Muller. “He certainly has the talent to improve his odds when his isn’t.”

Dediu holds some shares of Apple stock — and some Google (GOOG) — that he bought before he began blogging, but he doesn’t trade. And he advises anybody who asks not to play the market either.

“What learned in business school is that all the trading strategies are bull,” he says. “Every quarter I find amazing disconnects with the fundamentals.”

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[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]