BOSTON (TheStreet) -- Don't be fooled by the headlines today: The story of Apple (AAPL) - Get Report isn't that it's the largest company by market value after crushing every analyst's estimate with its quarterly results.
No, the story of Apple is succinctly summed up by shareholder Keith Goddard, President and CEO of Capital Advisors: "It's such a unique phenomenon."
Apple has been considered by investors to be a top growth stock for years now, increasing revenue and earnings at a breakneck clip while the shares still traded at an attractive value compared to the broader market. But with fierce competition and worry over Apple's ability to keep innovating, traders began a painful game of calling a top in Apple, convinced the next quarter would be the end of the Cinderella run.
But as Apple's blowout earnings report from late yesterday shows, that run isn't over yet. Instead, the company managed to double its sales of hot gadgets like the iPhone and the iPad tablet. Investors now have to wonder how to define Apple as an investment, as it still has an attractive valuation while the company continues to be growing tremendously.
Goddard, whose firm has $980 million in assets and counts Apple among its largest holdings, says that just because Apple's market cap is over $400 billion to make it the largest U.S. company "doesn't mean anything to me unless it's very clear they've oversaturated the total market opportunity." He points out that
once had a huge market cap but had 80% of the market share and traded at 80 times earnings.
"Apple has 25% of its market opportunity and trades for about 10 times earnings," Goddard points out. "I'm very sensitive to the idea that technology companies lose their mojo. It always happens. But I don't see that happening in the next two years."
Goddard suggests that investors look at the bigger picture for Apple rather than get lost in the earnings and estimates comparisons. Goddard says he and his team project that 10 billion mobile devices will be connected to the Internet in coming years, putting Apple in a dominant position to capitalize on the mobile computing trend that still has a long runway.
"The market they're pursuing is so huge," he says. "We haven't seen anything like this before where a single company dominates the market. The ecosystem they've created allows them to extract more profit than we've seen in any given sector. They're not going to get it right every quarter. But in the scheme of things, they'll gain share in a market that will double again."
Goddard notes that after such a huge blowout earnings report, analysts are ratcheting their expectations higher, which will make it harder for Apple to wow Wall Street. However, he offers an anecdote to investors to help them understand why relying on analyst targets and estimates is like getting lost in the weeds.
"Analysts missed their revenue estimate by $7.4 billion this quarter," Goddard says, noting that Apple's reported sales of $46.3 billion was well above the average estimate of about $39 billion. "With their modeling and channel checks, they missed by $7.4 billion. There are only 319 companies in the U.S. market that do more than $7.4 billion in annual revenue, and that was the margin of error for this quarter."
Goddard's point is that it's all about Apple's market opportunity, and how likely Apple can maintain its market share and increase it. Goddard expects the mobile-phone and tablet markets could double again within the next five years. That means Apple's business could very well rise at the same rate.
He isn't alone. Oliver Pursche, president of Gary Goldberg Financial Services, continues to be bullish on Apple.
"Even when someone hints that the upside is limited, Apple defies the laws of gravity," Pursche says. "It's been the best growth stock we've owned. I don't know that I'm willing to say it's the best growth stock going forward. But we continue to buy it with capital from new accounts."
One of the reasons Pursche believes the company will continue to do well is its restlessness. Pursche says management has Apple continuously behaving like a startup, searching out new markets and opportunities.
"They're probably thinking about markets and ways to penetrate and strengthen their market share in ways that we are not," he says. "They're Apple and we're us. From an investors' perspective, betting against Apple's ability to grow and innovate is a dangerous thing to do. They can innovate and outmaneuver the competition."
That leaves investors to decide whether to buy this growth stock at all-time highs. Earlier in Wednesday's session, Apple shares hit a new high of $454.45, an increase of more than 30% from 12 months ago. Conservative investors may be wondering whether Apple is still a "buy" here, or whether they should sell shares on the belief that it won't get any better for Apple than this most recent quarter.
"If you want to be conservative, and you owned the stock at $200, maybe you buy some long-dated out-of-the-money puts in case something goes wrong to hedge your position," Pursche offers. "But that's for nervous investors worried about all the gains. I imagine you could buy January 2013 $400 puts relatively cheaply. You're keeping your upside."
But from a portfolio management perspective, Pursche says investors have to decide whether they like the stock or not. "If you disagree with the argument they will be able to grow, you should get out of the stock. There are plenty of other opportunities," he says. "The problem is when people try to time the top. I'm sure there are people who sold yesterday anticipating a bad earnings report. Now they're wondering whether to buy back in 30 or 40 points higher."
On the other hand, there are investors who don't even consider growth numbers and instead focus on Apple's valuation. With nearly $100 billion in cash on its balance sheet, Apple has about $103 in cash per share. If that is stripped out, Apple trades at an earnings multiple of about 10, below the broader S&P 500 Index. By comparison, growth stock
Chipotle Mexican Grill
has a forward price-to-earnings ratio of 41.5, while
trades at 71 times forward earnings.
That attractive valuation makes Apple one of the top holdings for Daniel Morris, portfolio manager of the
Manor Growth Fund
. He says investors are worrying about negative implications for Apple that in all likelihood are already priced into the stock.
"Even if you grow at only 15%, Apple isn't overvalued," Morris says. "They can't grow at astronomical rates forever. You can't innovate constantly. The stock has priced in a lot of the uncertainty, but it's still inexpensive. We think the stock has room to move based on executive of operations and we also think there can be premium and expansion."
-- Written by Robert Holmes in Boston
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