Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) was the most popular stock among hedge funds for the third quarter of 2012 (see the full rankings), as our database of 13F filings included 146 hedge funds and other notable investors with long positions in Apple. The company’s fiscal year ended in September, with revenue growth coming in at 45% compared to the previous fiscal year. Over the last four fiscal years, sales grew at a CAGR of 43% (though the growth rate was 66% in FY 2011). It’s certainly a bit dampening to see that revenue was up only 27% in the fourth fiscal quarter of the year versus a year earlier, but we think that it’s reasonable to expect at least some revenue growth going forward. A similar line applies to net income: net margins have generally increased over the last few years, with the result being that the four-year CAGR of earnings has been 62% (including a 61% from the last fiscal year).
However, the recent pullback in the stock has left Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) trading at 12 times trailing earnings- a multiple which generally indicates that the market expects just about no growth going forward. We wouldn’t call Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) a trillion dollar stock (which is roughly what sell-side analysts are calling for, with a five-year PEG ratio of 0.5), but the current market cap of about half that figure seems cheap. Of course, the earnings multiples don’t count for Apple’s sizable cash hoard.
Billionaire David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital cut his Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) stake during the third quarter of the year but it was still his largest position by market value at 1.1 million shares (check out Einhorn's favorite stocks). Fisher Asset Management, managed by fellow billionaire Ken Fisher, had owned about 100,000 shares at the beginning of July but increased its holdings to about 960,000 shares by the end of September (find more of Fisher's stock picks). Tiger Cubs such as Rob Citrone of Discovery Capital Management, Philippe Laffont of Coatue Management, and Andreas Halvorsen of Viking Global also had large positions in Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL).
It’s certainly easy to make the case that Apple is the best buy of the large consumer technology companies. Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) trades at 16 times forward earnings estimates- a large premium to Apple- and that forecast depends on substantial improvements over the company’s trailing performance. It’s of course possible for Google to hit that target, particularly by better integration of the Motorola business unit which has thus far been a drag on margins, but Apple just looks like a more certain value. Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) posts an attractive forward P/E of 9, but that figure is likely skewed higher because of releases of Windows and Office. In addition, it seems quite possible that Windows 8 will disappoint. We wouldn’t short the company at its current valuation either, but would need more confidence in its new releases before considering it as a buy.