Analyst Downgrades Apple on Pricing Concerns...and Netbook Strategy?

 Bryan Chaffin - The Back Page

Calyon Securities analyst Shebly Seyrafi downgraded AAPL Tuesday on twin concerns about the company's premium pricing strategy and what he (bizarrely) characterized as the company's failure to show how it would compete in the Netbook market without sacrificing its successful MacBook line.

I'm still scratching my head over that last bit, too, but let's look at what he said:

"Apple's premium-pricing model is vulnerable in today's recessionary environment," Mr. Seyrafi wrote, according to a Marketwatch report. He cited the example that Apple's average selling price (ASP) for a notebook is US$1,398, which is more than double that of HP's ASP of $663.

Mr. Seyrafi's point appears to be that Apple should compete on price, an issue that would have seemingly been settled by several years of a highly profitable business model of making sustainable profits (Apple calls them reasonable profits, for what that's worth) on what amount to high-end computer products.

Even more interestingly, however was his comment that Apple, "has not shown a convincing strategy of how it will play in the netbook market without cannibalizing [its] existing MacBooks."

What makes this so interesting is that Apple has actually said it is not interested in the netbook space, going so far as to denigrate existing products.

"We're watching that space," Mr. Cook said during Apple's Q1 conference call with analysts in January. "Right now from our point of view, the products in there are principally based on hardware that's much less powerful than we think customers want, software technology that is not good, cramped keyboards, small displays, etc."

"We don't think that people are going to be pleased with those type of products," he concluded, but he then hedged with a, "but we'll see. We are watching the space. About 3% of the PC industry last year was in this netbook kind of category. So it's a category we watch."

Mr. Cook added, "We've got some ideas here, [but] right now we think the products there are inferior and will not provide an experience to customers that they're happy with."

Going from those public words to the insinuation that Apple has a muddled netbook strategy that will cannibalize MacBook sales is...peculiar.

As I've said in the past about...peculiar...analyst analysis, understanding what Apple is doing is fairly simple (if hard to copy), and it starts with reading what Apple executives like Tim Cook say (Apple COO Says No to Apple Netbook, Denigrates Existing Models and Apple COO Tim Cook Lays Out Apple Manifesto, With or Without Steve for starters).

Peculiar or not, however, Mr. Seyrafi downgraded Apple to "Underperform," a rating that means he expects Apple to perform more poorly than its broader market competitors. He lowered estimates for the current quarter's Mac sales to $3 billion, down $300 million, and iPhone unit sales to three million units, down from 3.2 million units.

He also lowered his 2009 fiscal year earnings estimate on Apple to $5.51 a share, down from $5.66 a share, and he cut his price target on the stock to $90 per share from $95.

Apple investors reacted to the downgrade by boosting the stock by 3.8%. AAPL closed at $90.25 per share, a gain of $3.30 (+3.80%), on moderate volume.

*In the interest of full disclosure, the author holds a small share in AAPL stock that was not an influence in the creation of this article.