A measure of enthusiasm for Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) options is the lowest in three years, a sign investors expect the iPhone maker to maintain its near-perfect record of beating analyst earnings estimates.

Implied volatility, the key gauge of options prices, for Apple fell to 28.42 on July 5, according to data compiled by Bloomberg using three-month contracts closest to the stock price. That’s the lowest level since February 2009 relative to the company’s 60-day historical volatility, a measure of actual stock swings. Apple shares are up 48 percent this year, the ninth-biggest advance in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

At a time when U.S. companies are forecast to post the first earnings decline since 2009, Apple may say quarterly profits rose 34 percent, according to analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Shares of the Cupertino, California-based company are cheaper than the U.S. equity benchmark relative to income, a sign to HighMark Capital Management Inc.’s David Dillon that Apple will extend gains this year.

“Apple is one of the stocks which allow me to sleep a little better,” Dillon, a San Francisco-based portfolio manager at HighMark Capital Management, which oversees about $17 billion including Apple shares, said in a phone interview. “The valuation appears fairly attractive.”

Earnings Season

Earnings from Apple have exceeded analysts’ projections every quarter but one since 2003, topping estimates by an average of 29 percent, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The world’s largest company by market value may report on July 24 that net income rose to $10.41 a share in the fiscal third quarter, estimates compiled by Bloomberg show.

Steve Dowling, a spokesman for Apple, declined to comment on the options trading. The stock rose 0.7 percent to $603.08 early Friday.

The shares, which reached a record $636.23 in April, trade at 12.07 times estimated earnings in the next year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s 5.9 percent less than the price-earnings ratio for the S&P 500.

Apple rallied 8.9 percent on April 25, the most in more than three years, after quarterly profit almost doubled to $12.30 a share amid increased demand for the iPhone in China. The results beat analysts’ forecasts by 23 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The options market is implying a one-day move of 5.9 percent following the earnings report, the data show. That’s more than the average gain or drop of 3.7 percent after the last eight releases.

Technology ETF

Implied volatility for three-month contracts closest to Apple’s stock price had fallen 21 percent since its June 4 high to 30.47 yesterday, data compiled by Bloomberg show. During that time, actual price swings slipped 13 percent to 31.47 and the stock rose 6.1 percent.

Apple contracts cost 1.6 times more than options on the Technology Select Sector SPDR Fund, data on three-month implied volatility show. That’s 23 percent below the high reached on March 16, when Apple wagers were twice as expensive as those on the U.S. exchange-traded fund.

Apple shares are too expensive based on the competition it faces, John Goltermann of Obermeyer Asset Management Inc. said. Google Inc. said on June 27 that it will sell a tablet device called the Nexus 7. Microsoft Corp. announced plans last month to release its own tablet, the Surface. Amazon.com Inc. is developing a smartphone, two people with knowledge of the matter said last week.

‘Leading Edge’

“The $600 stock price is implying that Apple is going to be on the leading edge of the innovation curve into perpetuity, which it will not be,” Goltermann, a money manager who helps oversee $800 million at Obermeyer in Aspen, Colorado, said yesterday in a phone interview. “Something else will come to dominate the tablet market, the phone market as we know it.”

Apple plans to start selling a smaller, cheaper version of the iPad by the end of the year, two people familiar with the plans said earlier this month. The tablet market will reach $66.4 billion in 2012, according to DisplaySearch.

The Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index, known as the VIX, fell 8.7 percent to 16.74 today. The CBOE Apple VIX, which uses a similar calculation to forecast volatility in the stock, lost 1.3 percent to 34.70. In Europe, the VStoxx Index, a measure of Euro Stoxx 50 Index options prices, slipped 6.1 percent to 22.61.

Options traders have been increasing bullish bets on Apple. The ratio of outstanding calls to buy the stock relative to puts to sell jumped 32 percent since its one-year low on March 14 to 1.47-to-1 on July 10, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Nine of the 10 most-owned contracts were bullish, and January $600 calls had the largest open interest, followed by January $650 calls, January $700 calls and January $750 calls, the data show.

“Apple is going to do well,” Byron Wien, vice chairman of Blackstone Advisory Partners LP, said in a July 11 television interview on “Bloomberg Surveillance” with Tom Keene and Sara Eisen. “It’s the most innovative company we’ve had in generations.”