updated 11:00 pm EDT, Wed July 24, 2013
For a change, Wall Street out-picked the numbers from indie analysts
Before any Apple quarterly financial conference call -- starting weeks before the end of the quarter -- pundits and analysts offer their educated guesses on how well Apple will do or did in both sales and revenue. Traditionally, Apple gave very conservative guidance and hedged its bets, and analysts were often blown away by the actual results. After years of second-guessing, Apple offered to provide what it felt was the most probable truthful guidance. It took a while, but analysts are paying attention -- and for this quarter, the pros mostly got it right.
Fortune's Philip Elmer-Dewitt compared the actual results to estimates by Wall Street pros and independent analysts and found that this time -- bucking the overall trend -- the Wall Streeters missed the results by only one percent on average, while the "amateurs" were off by an average of 2.4 percent. Still, both groups have gotten much better than they were two years ago, when they would miss revenue and earnings figures by double-digit percentages (with the amateurs about half as off-base as the Wall Street pros).
Most of the credit for the improvement, however, should go to Apple. The company told analysts it would improve the accuracy of its guidance and not trend to the conservative on numbers, and it followed through on that. After a quarter or two of skepticism, the pundits looked at their spreadsheets and realized Apple was serious. Still, no analyst got more than two of their main predictions on or very near the actual number, and the "winners" were spread more or less evenly between amateurs and pros.
The charts below show the results of the predictions: the best estimates are colored bright green, the second- and third-best in light green, and the worst in red and pink tones. While analysts are showing signs of getting smarter about Apple's business, the fact that the company was still able to pull off a few surprises -- most notably the much-better-than-expected sales of iPhones -- shows that Wall Street and other observers still haven't got Apple figured out completely just yet.