Why is Jim Cramer Holding His Breath on Apple?

Jim Cramer is choosing to hold off on making any kind of recommendation on Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) stock until the iPhone maker is done announcing December-quarter earnings in the middle of this week. Apple is scheduled to report fiscal first quarter earnings on January 23.

“I want you to be ready to buy some stocks into weakness, namely Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), 3M (NYSE:MMM), and especially Honeywell (NYSE:HON),” Cramer said on CNBC. “The rest, including Apple, just sit back and listen, and then we will make the decisions, not before the quarters.”

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Like several other investment experts, the “Mad Money” host believes Apple’s sales and earnings performance during the holiday quarter, traditionally the company’s strongest, is its most critical in years. With the stock already down more than 6 percent this year and a little less than 30 percent since reaching a record closing high in September, positive news has become a precious commodity for Apple.

Apple vs. the Nasdaq until now in 2013:

Apple vs Nasdaq January 2013

Reports that question the company’s long-term viability and those that express concern about more immediate worries, such as iPhone orders in the ongoing quarter, have put a plague on the stock. To make matters worse, Apple missed consensus forecasts in the last two quarters and can scarce afford to make a habit of that behavior.

“This may be the single most important quarter Apple has ever had,” Cramer said. “It comes on the heels of two so-so quarters and massive worries about weak iPhone sales. All I can tell you is that you just have to wait and see. I think it’s too cheap to sell, but not compelling enough to buy until we know more.”

According to Wall Street averages calculated by FactSet, Apple will post earnings of $13.45 a share, down from $13.87 a year ago. Revenue is expected to rise to $54.92 billion from $46.33 billion in the year-earlier period. It should have sold between 47.5 million and 53 million iPhones and between 23 million and 25 million iPads.

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Last week, Cramer had said that Apple had become a tough stock to own and that the company may only have itself to blame for the dropping excitement levels for its products. He wasn’t giving up on Apple entirely though. “I love this company and, of course, things can turn around,” Cramer said then. “I’m still holding some of my Apple position because Apple could still dazzle, maybe with an acquisition, maybe a new product.”

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