In recent months, Apple Computer's ( AAPL) stock has drooped ever lower. But have the shares fallen so low that the former can't-miss tech stock is ripe again for the picking? Some investors believe so, and they've started putting their money where their mouths are, buying up the stock amid the selloff. "I'm sitting here aghast seeing this
stock go down on a daily basis," says one longtime bull on the shares, who asked to remain nameless. Apple's stock should rebound later this year amid improving financial results and a broader shift in investor sentiment, says the investor, whose fund is long Apple and has been buying shares in recent sessions. But even investors who agree with predictions of a second-half rebound aren't sure that now's the right time to get in. Apple is much more reasonably priced today than it was two months ago, says Steve Wallman, whose hedge fund has a small long stake in Apple. Wallman sold 90% of his fund's Apple shares when the stock hit $78, but he's not quite ready to load up again. "I don't have a clue where it will bottom," he says. "The prospects are still good for the company. But when you buy something whose stock is in decline, it's like trying to grab a falling knife." Apple investors have clearly felt the knife of late. Since the company's stock peaked at $86.40 in mid-January, it has fallen 32%. Now below $60, the shares are trading at their lowest level in nearly five months. Investors point to a number of recent concerns that have weighed on Apple shares: Transition issues. The company is in the process of switching the processors that power its Macintosh computers from the PowerPC line made by IBM (IBM) and Freescale Semiconductor (FSL) to chips made by Intel (INTC). Although Apple has moved at a much faster pace than anticipated, the company posted lighter-than-expected computer shipments in its holiday quarter and predicted that sales could again be light in its first quarter. Light iPod sales. Last year, Apple juiced sales of its hit digital music players by introducing the shuffle, a new budget-priced model. But there wasn't a similar move this year. And amid reports and rumors of light iPod shipments in recent weeks, many investors and analysts are expecting the company to post its first sequential decline in iPod shipments in three years -- a possible indication that Apple's chief growth driver is maturing. Disappointing product announcements. Since January, Apple has had just one event to debut new products, a gathering last month at which it unveiled a revamped Mac mini and a new iPod-connected boom box. But many analysts considered that event to be underwhelming, in that both new products are minor parts of Apple's lineup. Meanwhile, many investors and enthusiasts were expecting the company to make some major product announcements around the time of its 30th anniversary this weekend -- a new, larger-screen video iPod, an Apple-branded cell phone and an Intel-powered consumer laptop are all rumored to be in the works -- but that's looking like it won't happen. Investor sentiment. Apple's not the only highflying stock that's been beaten up lately. Google (GOOG), eBay (EBAY), Yahoo! (YHOO) and Genentech (DNA) all are down for the year as the market has shifted to other, less volatile sectors. Steve Jobs' stock sale. CEO Jobs had some 10 million restricted shares vesting this quarter. To pay the taxes on those shares, Jobs essentially sold 4.6 million shares -- nearly half of his total -- back to the company. Although the move won't increase Apple's float -- it planned to retire the shares -- the company will be out some $300 million worth of cash used to pay Jobs' taxes. Coupled with other recent insider sales on the open market, the overall effect was likely a negative one for the stock. But perhaps the biggest reason the company's shares have dropped lately is that the company simply hasn't defended the stock amid all the other growing concerns.
"There's been a stream of negative news with no response," says Jim Grossman, a portfolio manager at Thrivent, which is long Apple. Ironically, that's what gives bulls some hope. The company will report earnings next month, which will give it an opportunity to address some of the outstanding issues. "It will be nice to hear from the company, at least," says Grossman. And investors expect to hear more in coming months, particularly about new products that should boost sales in the back-to-school and holiday seasons. "We'll give the company the benefit of the doubt, knowing their product line is so strong," says Grossman. "Heading into fall, we will see some great, great numbers." Meanwhile, with the recent selloff, some investors who might have been scared away by Apple when its stock traded at $85 might start seeing a bargain. Taking out the company's $8.9 billion in cash and investments, it now trades at less than 20 times next fiscal year's earnings, a multiple many investors might consider reasonable for a company growing this quickly. "I'm a value guy. I'm looking at 50-cent dollars," says Grossman. "At each downtick, Apple becomes more reasonably priced. It's more attractive now than it was at $84."