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2013 is here and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) investors can now start to look ahead to the company's next earnings release sometime around Jan. 23rd. Apple stock has been under pressure recently and everyone seems to know how it's trading and why. But I'd like to look to the future with Apple and see if we can decide where it is going. Smartphone and tablet markets have grown dramatically in the last year. Along with a growing population and a growing middle class worldwide, Apple products seem to be as in demand as ever.

Apple analysts' estimates have dropped recently and they are now expecting no profit growth for Apple's Q1 2013 compared to last year's Q1 2012. Let me repeat, analysts are predicting no growth for a company that has grown on average by 50%+ for the last 3 years. If you've followed Apple analysts in the past you know that estimates are just that, estimates. I took a look at why I think Apple is being underestimated again this quarter by Wall Street and believe we could see yet another great earnings report from Apple.

Apple's Q1 2012 showed profits of $13.87 per share on $46.33B in revenue. Apple guided to $11.75 per share on $52B in revenue for Q1 2013. Analysts Q1 2013 estimates are $13.33 per share (90 days ago estimates were for $15.44) on $54.53B in revenue (yahoo finance). Analysts are estimating above Apple's guide since their history has always been to give low estimates to make sure they will be beat.

Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty pointed out during Apple's Q4 conference call that if Apple only makes $11.75 a share this quarter if would be the first year over year decline in the Christmas quarter. Q1 2012 for Apple had an extra week that will not be counted this year. This can be estimated to about an 8% difference year over year (12 or 13 weeks).

The drop in profit this year is due to the expected gross margin drop this quarter as a result of so many new products being introduced recently. When Apple releases a new device, it costs more to produce than a product they and their suppliers have been perfecting the manufacturing of for 12 months. This will improve with time as Apple becomes more efficient at producing millions of devices.

Since estimates for this quarter are similar in terms of revenue and earnings to the quarter a year ago, this can provide us with a great comparison.

What is different this year verses last year?

2013 verses 2012

1. iPhone5 instead of iPhone4S (positive)

2. iPad 4 with retina verses iPad 2 (positive)

3. iPad mini verses no iPad mini (positive)

4. New iPods and Macs just refreshed verses no refresh prior to Christmas (positive)

5. Opening launch in China verses no China launch (positive)

6. No launch weekend in US and other major countries (was counted for Apple's Q4 2012) (negative)

7. 12 week quarter verses 13 week quarter (negative)

8. Gross margin will be lower due to new products (negative)

9. New products have all been released recently and sales are always best right after launch (positive)

I believe the positives year over year will easily outweigh the negatives and turn this into a quarter that will beat estimates.

Analysts seem to agree that Apple will sell a lot of devices this quarter (54.53B in revenue estimate), the question for analysts is how profitable they will be at doing it. After all the goal here is profits and not just revenues (something AMZN hasn't been able to grasp yet).

The revenue and earnings are what is important for Apple. Even with a drop this quarter in gross margin the street will still remember that this is only temporary and what matters is Apple products are still in demand and the company will be adding $10B+ every quarter to their balance sheet.

iPad mini - how much will it affect the earnings?

This is anyone's guess as no one can be sure of total devices sold or what the margin is on the mini (Apple doesn't separate it from the full size iPad when reporting sales). Most opinions seem to be that the iPad mini was overpriced when introduced at a $329 starting price. This just ensures that Apple will maintain decent if not amazing margins on the mini. This "high" price is only a concern if Apple cannot sell as many of the minis as they want. This could be a concern 6-9 months from now as sales growth slows and people anticipate the iPad mini2 with Retina. But the price is still shockingly low compared to full sized PCs and even the full size iPad. The iPad mini demand seems to be strong and will likely surpass the full sized iPad in numbers sold at some point in 2013. The iPad mini rumor mill has been running for over 2 years and there has clearly been some pent up demand waiting for its release. Apple CEO Tim Cook said as much in the last conference call when answering a question about the iPad number disappointing last quarter.

iPhone5 - Will margins drop?

The iPhone5 has a taller screen but a similar form factor to the iPhone4 and 4S. This similarity along with Apple knowing they would need over 150 million iPhone5s (some estimates call for 200 million during its lifetime) should mean that the margins will stay relatively good for Apple's most important product.

The iconomy - did Apple survive the fiscal cliff?

Things have gotten scary with Apple lately. A lot of the recent drop was related to the fiscal cliff and tax changes that could have taken place. Everyone has an opinion as to why it has sold off, but it is important to keep things in perspective. Remember back to the summer of 2011. We saw violent swings in the market related to the debt ceiling, European sovereign debt crisis, and a near recession in the U.S. All of which should have pointed to Apple struggling and the stock selling off. But this didn't happen, Apple reported great numbers, shocking analysts, and the stock responded well. Things in 2012 have actually improved for Apple. The economies seem a bit stronger. China manufacturing has been improving and growth holding above 7%. The euro is back above 1.30, and no one is talking about its imminent collapse. U.S. real estate improving and steady, and unemployment is dropping.

How to profit

Since Apple is considered by many to be undervalued now (currently trading at $532), a bet now for Apple seems like a good idea. I'd recommend buying a long term call option. The JAN 14 call options around $600 seem like a good risk/reward. You could also sell a call above that price to minimize risk and create a bullish call spread. If you're looking for more of a direct bet to make on the earnings announcement I'd recommend the following. The day of earnings write a put option 2 months away (March expiration) that is approximately $75 under the price of apple. If Apples trading at $550 on earnings release, write a $475 put. This way you will collect the premium from the option and profit if Apple moves up, stays flat, or even falls slightly. The option premium will be high when you write the put and should have a good enough buffer there even if Apple falls $20 on the report. This too can be hedged by buying a lower priced put. I'd plan on taking this bet off the day after earnings whether it's a winner or not.

Every hedge fund manager and commentator on TV has an opinion on Apple, and they all seem to want to pump out confusing information. But it is really quite simple. I say we use this earnings report to pump some life back into our portfolios.

Source: Apple's Upcoming Earnings Beat