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When is the right (and wrong) time to buy Apple stock?

Investing in Apple's stock one to two months prior to the launch of an iPhone or iPad can be fruitful, says investment firm Sanford C. Bernstein.

Apple's current steep stock price probably places it off limits to a lot of investors. But those who can cough up the cash can do well investing before a new product cycle, according to investment firm Sanford C. Bernstein.

Bernstein's latest research found that Apple's stock historically outperforms in the eight weeks before a new product is announced.

Apple shares have tended to rise in short spurts over the past couple of years. As such, Bernstein Research analyst Toni Sacconaghi, Jr., still advises investors to hold a long-term position rather than try to time the market. But for those eager to dive in, the analyst sees the "potential for near-term outperformance." Why now?

Apple watchers are watching September 12 as the next big announcement date. The latest reports and rumors say that Apple will hold one of its launch events that day to unveil not just the next iPhone but a new iPad Mini. Many also expect the company to update its iPod lineup and reveal more details about its Apple TV.

The stock has already outperformed over the last three weeks after reports of the potential September 12 launch hit the news.

"Investing one to two months prior to an iPhone- or iPad-related product announcement has led to meaningful outperformance," Sacconaghi said in a report out today. "This effect has become more pronounced both in the past two years and for the past two iPhone product announcements, likely reflecting the increasingly pronounced seasonality associated with more recent iPhone versions."

OK, so when is the wrong time to invest in Apple?

Bernstein's research showed that the stock has been "relatively tepid" in the two weeks after a new product launch, and that it's underperformed over the subsequent two-month period. One reason for the lackluster performance? It's become increasingly difficult for Apple to surprise people.

"We believe that the Apple blog-sphere has become increasingly effective and predictive, with major details of new products largely known before the announcement date," Sacconaghi said. "Consistent with this, Apple's stock has generally traded in line with the market in the week prior to and following historical product launches, while it has underperformed in the one and two month periods following the product launches."

In the case of the iPhone 5, several alleged details have already been revealed, including a new 4-inch screen, 4G LTE support, and NFC compatibility. But the iPad Mini and a potential iPod refresh are relative mysteries, ones that could "fuel incremental excitement about the forthcoming September launch."

The analyst does point out some potential risks for the company and its stock.

The next iPhone could disappoint customers, leading more of them to jump ship to rival smartphones. Apple could fail to target users looking for low-cost phones, helping Android grab even more market share.

Demand for the iPad could slow due to competition or customer interest in more integrated tablet/PC products. Apple also faces a tougher time meeting demand for new products as it expands around the world.

Despite these concerns, Sacconaghi considers Apple a "top pick" and believes the stock will outperform.