Pros vs. Indies on Apple’s Q2 2012: A $6.8 billion gap

April 1, 2012, 12:16 PM UTC

The difference in their quarterly forecasts has never been so great

Click to enlarge. Data: Apple 2.0, Thomson/First Call. Chart style: Adam Bushman

In the three and a half years that I’ve been pitting the analysts who cover Apple (AAPL) for Wall Street against the growing cadre of independent analysts who do it for fun (and, presumably, their own profit), I’ve never seen a gap this big — either in dollar or percentage terms.

According to Thomson/First Call, the published consensus of 42 professional analysts as of Friday was that Apple will report earnings of $9.78 on revenues of $35.88 billion for the quarter that ended yesterday, up 53% and 45.5% year over year, respectively.

The independents, who for a host of reasons tend to be both more bullish and more accurate, beg to differ. Among the 16 I’ve heard from so far, the consensus is that Apple earned $12.66 on sales of $42.68 billion in fiscal Q2, up 98% and 73%, respectively.

That’s a gap of $2.88 (30%) in earnings and a whopping $6.8 billion (19%) in revenue.

The indies could be wrong, of course. They got clobbered last fall when millions of customers delayed iPhone purchases in anticipation of the new model that came out in October. Apple, it turns out, had tried to signal the shortfall three months earlier by issuing guidance that was even more conservative than usual.

In its most recent report Apple told analysts to expect Q2 earnings of $8.50 on sales of $32.5 billion. According to Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster, who has been tracking Apple’s guidance numbers since 2006, the company has bested its own earnings forecasts, on average, by 40% and its revenue guidance by 11% (see here).

If  those measures can be trusted, the pros would seem to be closer to the mark on the top line (revenue), and the indies closer on the bottom (earnings per share).

We’ll get a better sense of where things stand when our own polling of the professional analysts is complete and when we hear from the rest of the independents. (Among the indies who still haven’t weighed in are Turley Muller, Daniel Tello, Alexis Cabot and Andy Zaky, four of the best Apple prognosticators in the business.)

And we’ll find out who was closest to the mark when Apple reports its earnings in mid-April.