What Those Reports About Apple Supply Cutbacks Really Mean

January 6, 2016, 6:45 PM UTC
Inside An Apple Inc. Store As The New iPhones Are Released
Employees arrange Apple Inc. iPhone 6s Plus boxes at an Apple store in Palo Alto, California, U.S., on Friday, Sept. 25, 2015. From Sydney to New York, some of the Apple faithful waited in lines for more than two weeks to be among the first to receive the new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Photograph by David Paul Morris — Bloomberg via Getty Images

For the third time in as many months reports of cutbacks in iPhone 6s orders have taken a big bite out of Apple’s share price. (See here, here, and here.)

The latest, from Nikkei Asian Review, says Apple (AAPL) is expected to reduce output of its newest iPhone models by 30% according to “several parts suppliers.” The report also claims, without identifying its sources, that inventories of the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, have “piled up” at retailers in China, Japan, Europe and the U.S.

Let’s take those one at a time.

If you follow Apple long enough, you learn that these reports are a dime a dozen and worth about as much. The highlight of Daniel Eran Dilger’s deep dive into the subject for AppleInsider last month was the 2012 rumor of iPhone 5 parts cuts that someone at Citi leaked to a hedge fund before it was published (Citi paid a $30 million fine for its indiscretion).

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After that incident Tim Cook warned analysts that Apple’s supply chain is too complex to be evaluated by piecemeal reports. “Even if a particular data point were factual,” he said, “it would be impossible to interpret that data point as to what it meant for our business.”

“Relaying supply chain chatter is not analysis,” says Horace Dediu, an independent analyst at the Clayton Christensen Institute who takes a hard line on the practice. “It is trafficking in unaudited and uninformed gossip at best, and stolen inside information at worst. Analysts should be ashamed of themselves if that is what they do.”

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“My memory is that the reports spreading ‘doom’ have been far more often wrong than right,” adds Sean Udall, who follows the Asian supply chain for Minyanville. “In the third quarter of iPhone 6 sales there was a rash of supply chain fears and Apple produced one of those bone crushing beats.”

Udall is suspending disbelief until he hears from Cirrus Logic (CRUS), a semiconductor supplier that gets 70% of its business from Apple. “If Apple was firmly cutting March quarter by 30%, I’d think CRUS would or will be the first to say something.”

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As for Nikkei Asian Review’s other assertion—that iPhone 6s inventories are piling up—Above Avalon‘s Neil Cybart offers a simple explanation.

“It is important to be very clear as to what Nikkei is saying here,” he writes in his Wednesday newsletter. “The key point was found at the end of the article: ‘older [iPhone] models have continued to sell.'”

Apple, he points out, currently sells five iPhone models and three of them—the iPhone 5s, 6 and 6 Plus—got $100 price cuts when the iPhone 6s arrived.

“One byproduct from this would be weaker iPhone 6s and 6s Plus sales as customers bypass the latest model to instead take advantage of the lower-priced, yet almost identical-looking, iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.”

Makes sense to me.