Apple Falls Far From Tree: Seven And A Half Things To Know

FILE - In this Oct. 20, 2012 photo, people line up to enter a newly-opened Apple Store in Wangfujing shopping district in Bei
FILE - In this Oct. 20, 2012 photo, people line up to enter a newly-opened Apple Store in Wangfujing shopping district in Beijing. Apple's profit surge halted in the latest quarter, as a flood of new products like the iPhone 5 meant high start-up costs for new production lines. Apple posted net income for the October to December quarter that was flat with the year before. It was the first time in years that Apple didn't post a double-digit earnings increase. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, File)

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Thing One: Apple's Fall: It's getting harder to shake the feeling that Apple has peaked forever.

The company's stock price certainly reached at least a short-term peak back in September, when it hit $700 a share. At last check, the stock was at about $460, a drop of about 34 percent. That includes a plunge overnight of more than 9 percent, after Apple reported fiscal first-quarter revenue that fell short of Wall Street forecasts for the third quarter in a row, Reuters notes. Its revenue growth was the slowest since 2009, writes Bloomberg. Profit margins shrank, and profit was flat from a year ago, as the company spent heavily to keep up with rivals, the Wall Street Journal writes. Apple also forecast weaker second-quarter revenue than Wall Street expected. The company sold 48 million iPhones in its fiscal first quarter, ending in December, which is kind of a lot! But that was short of the 50 million projected, the Guardian notes.

The after-hours stock collapse shaved about $47 billion off Apple's vaunted market value, almost matching the combined market value of Dell and Hewlett-Packard. At $483 billion, Apple is still America's biggest company, topping Exxon Mobil by about $70 billion. But the days when Apple seemed destined to be the first $1 trillion company -- its market cap was more than $650 billion back in September -- are long gone.

Also gone, at least for now, are the days when every pronouncement out of the mouths of Apple executives was treated as manna by hungry media and Apple fans. Apple built its reputation with beautiful, groundbreaking products, but has increasingly spun its wheels lately, releasing incremental improvements to old technology, while rivals have quietly caught up. Apple still makes great stuff, but then so do a lot of other companies, including Samsung and Google and China Wireless Technologies, whose Coolpad phone is kicking Apple's butt in China, notes Quartz's Lily Kuo.

One of Apple's problems is that its investors and fans, including many in the media, have been engaged in magical thinking about the company for years, assuming it would always do no wrong, always keep growing to the sky. That was never really possible, particularly after the untimely death of the shaman Steve Jobs. Without his mystical reality-distortion field, reality is coming back into shape, and it's not looking pretty.

The letdown may be psychologically brutal. Bond guru Jeffrey Gundlach last night declared on CNBC that Apple is a "broken company." I don't know about that, but Apple's spell is broken, at least, so you can expect to hear a lot more of that sort of talk in the future. You probably shouldn't believe it: Apple is likely not going to be Blackberry maker Research In Motion, say. Or Microsoft, shudder to think. But Apple may need many more slaps in the face before it wakes up from its funk.

Thing Two: Disaster Officially Delayed: The House yesterday passed a bill to temporarily suspend the debt ceiling, postponing financial apocalypse until May, at least. In the meantime, we will still get another fight about the budget in March, when automatic spending cuts are due to kick in and the government's budget expires, the New York Times writes. The GOP is threatening a government shutdown in that fight, which will at least not be as financially disastrous as a debt-ceiling breach. But it will be annoying! Thank goodness CNBC still has about 1,000 "Rise Above" pins available.

Thing Three: Europe Vs. Cameron: British Prime Minister David Cameron may have been taking a page from Margaret Thatcher's playbook when he suggested yesterday that Europe might consider screwing itself, Bloomberg writes. But for some reason Cameron's threat that the U.K. might leave the European Union is not going over well with European leaders, whose anger melted the snows of Davos, writes the Wall Street Journal. This comes just as Europe seemed to have turned a corner -- new European economic data this morning were relatively not-horrible -- highlighting the never-ending difficulty of holding together a union of such disparate interests, the New York Times writes.

Thing Four: Unions Still Shrinking: American labor has turned the clock back to 1916. The percentage of American workers in unions fell to 11.3 percent last year, the lowest level in 97 years, the New York Times writes. Thank goodness American companies now provide living wages and decent benefits to all workers, making unions unnecessary! Oh, wait.

Thing Five: Top Cop To Stop: Lanny Breuer, the Justice Department's criminal enforcement chief, is stepping down soon, the Washington Post writes, in a story that highlights Breuer's supposed "efforts to clamp down fraud at the nation’s largest banks," despite Breuer's never having sent anybody to jail over the fraud that led to the financial crisis. Anyway, it's $1 to join the pool to bet on which bank gives him a job. Speaking of revolving doors, former Goldman Sachs executive Neel Kashkari, who led the financial-crisis bailout and was lately working at bond giant PIMCO, is considering running for public office in California, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Thing Six: Dreamliners Still Deferred: Boeing 787 Dreamliners are still grounded, as U.S. officials still haven't figured out exactly what caused a series of recent problems with the new planes' batteries, Bloomberg writes. They are starting to give a closer listen to whistleblowers who warned about problems with the batteries years ago, Reuters writes.

Thing Seven: Downloaded To DNA: Scientists have figured out how to download digital files onto DNA and then call up those files "with near-perfect fidelity," the Wall Street Journal writes. Now we'll have a way to store trillions of snarky tweets and Instagram food pictures forever. Thanks, science!

Thing Seven And One Half: Happier Days For Apple: On this day in 1984, then-Apple Chairman Steve Jobs introduced the Macintosh, one of the first and most successful personal computers to use a mouse and a graphical user interface instead of drab command lines. The line has had its ups and downs, but is still hanging around to this day (this newsletter was typed on a MacBook).

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