Even a pandemic can’t stop Apple Inc. from hitting new records.
The smartphone giant is expected to post its first-ever quarter with more than $100 billion in revenue Wednesday, driven by a strong early performance for its new iPhone 12 line as well as continued demand for Macs and iPads for remote work and school needs.
fiscal first-quarter results will be the first to include sales from the iPhone 12 family of devices, which began to roll out in October. Though Apple faced supply constraints on some models, the debut of Apple’s first 5G-enabled phones has arguably been the company’s most successful product launch in five years, in the view of Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty.
Customers seem to be increasingly opting for higher-priced iPhone models and more expensive storage configurations, which would boost the average selling price of devices and help the company’s profit margin. Apple no longer provides unit-sales metrics that shed light on its average selling prices, but the company usually offers some qualitative comments about which devices are performing best.
Apple has also seen strong sales of Macs and iPads amid the pandemic, with more people working and studying from home, and that momentum is expected to have continued into the fiscal first quarter. The company launched new iPads late last year as well as its first computers to feature the company’s own custom chip.
Analysts expect record performance for the company’s services category as well, though one area may not hold up as well. Apple has done a good job of transitioning sales to its online store given the COVID-19 crisis, but it’s “overly reliant on in-store customer purchases” to drive sales of its AppleCare insurance product, Huberty wrote.
What to expect
Earnings: Analysts tracked by FactSet expect that Apple earned $1.41 a share in the December quarter, up from $1.25 a year earlier. On Estimize, which crowdsources estimates from hedge funds, academics and others, the average projection calls for $1.45 a share.
Revenue: The FactSet consensus models a record $102.54 billion in revenue for Apple’s fiscal first quarter, up from $91.82 billion a year prior. The Estimize consensus is for $103.76 billion.
Analysts tracked by FactSet model $59.58 billion in iPhone revenue for Apple, up from $55.96 billion a year earlier. Apple declined to give formal guidance for the quarter on the last earnings call, but Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri said at the time to expect growth in iPhone revenue even though devices would begin shipping later in the quarter than they did a year prior.
The FactSet consensus calls for $7.38 billion in Pad revenue, up from $5.98 billion; $8.63 billion in Mac revenue, up from $7.16 billion; $15.17 billion in services revenue, up from $12.72 billion; and $11.49 billion in revenue for the wearables, home, and accessories category, up from $10.01 billion.
Stock movement: Apple shares have gained following three of the past five earnings reports, and the shares are up 72% over the past year as the Dow Jones Industrial Average
which counts Apple as a component, has gained 7%.
Of the 41 analysts tracked by FactSet who cover Apple’s stock, 28 have buy ratings, 10 have hold ratings and three have sell ratings, with an average price target of $132.71.
What else to watch for
Apple has declined to give a quantitative financial forecast in each of its last three earnings reports because of uncertainty related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the trend will likely continue this quarter.
“Given lingering uncertainty, we expect Apple is more likely to provide ‘guidelines’ rather than ‘guidance’ for Q2,” Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi wrote in a note to clients. In addition to the many unknowns around the pandemic, Apple’s late launch timing of the latest batch of iPhones means that the March quarter could be stronger than usual, since there were fewer iPhone 12 “selling days” leading up to it.
Sacconaghi will also be watching for commentary on Apple’s ongoing dispute with app developers led by Epic Games, which sued Apple and claimed that the company’s App Store rules around in-app purchases are monopolistic. Apple lowered commission rates for smaller developers that make up the bulk of those on the App Store, even as these developers don’t contribute too much to Apple’s overall revenue from the platform.
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“We believe that Apple’s decision to lower commissions was politically astute, allowing the company to portray itself as a promoter of small business, while also superficially addressing the complaint that its high app store fees are stifling competition and innovation,” wrote Sacconaghi, who has a market perform rating and $120 price target on the stock. “It remains to be seen if Apple will provide further commentary on this issue; that said, we continue to believe that the legal risk to App Store revenue is low.”
Morgan Stanley’s Huberty is interested in the company’s China momentum. She suspects that the company is benefiting from weakness at Huawei, citing data that suggest customers are switching from Huawei to Apple devices at the highest rate in 15 months. She has an overweight rating and $152 price target on the stock.
Goldman Sachs analyst Rod Hall echoed the point about Huawei’s challenges, though he’s concerned “that Apple has already begun cutting iPhone orders” and that build orders for the first half of 2021 suggest a move toward models with lower average selling prices.
“These changes are consistent, in our opinion, with a normal iPhone redesign cycle but are not consistent with a supercycle,” he wrote. “As a result we continue to expect iPhone replacement rates to resume their ongoing decline in 2021.” Hall has a sell rating and $85 target price on Apple shares.
Monness, Crespi, Hardt & Co. analyst Brian White highlights several new products and services that Apple could shed light on during the quarterly call. During the December quarter, the company began selling its AirPods Max over-the-ear headphones and rolled out both a subscription fitness offering and a way to bundle service together for a discount.
“In our view, Apple’s portfolio was positioned better-than-ever heading into the recent holiday season, while product and service updates position Planet Apple well in 2021,” he wrote. White has a buy rating and $144 price target on Apple shares.
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