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Jan 27, 2021

Apple's cautious outlook looms over US$111B sales haul

Kim Bolton discusses Apple

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Apple Inc. shares slid 2.9 per cent in premarket trading Thursday after a cautious outlook from executives overshadowed quarterly revenue that topped US$100 billion for the first time.

While the company didn’t provide an official forecast for the fourth quarter in a row, executives said sales growth from AirPods and other wearables will decelerate in the current quarter. They also warned that Services sales in the period will face tougher comparisons with a year earlier.

Overall, however, analysts saw the earnings report as a positive. RBC Capital Markets analyst Rober Muller wrote in a note that the market’s expectations were “elevated” coming into the numbers, but Apple “delivered on all fronts.”

Sales jumped 21 per cent to US$111.4 billion in the period ended Dec. 26, the company said Wednesday in a statement. Analysts, on average, expected US$103.1 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Profit was US$1.68 a share, also topping Wall Street estimates.

“It was an extremely strong quarter. What’s likely weighing on the stock at the moment is that they didn’t give guidance,” said Shannon Cross of Cross Research.

Expectations have been sky high for Apple on suggestions of a new iPhone “super cycle,” where millions of existing users upgrade aging handsets. The company also recently introduced other new devices, including an updated Apple Watch, and demand increased for iPads, Mac computers and services from consumers working and studying from home during the pandemic. The stock had jumped more than 20 per cent in the past three months, closing Wednesday at US$142.06 in New York.

Revenue was propelled by the iPhone 12, the first iPhone line to include four new models and 5G capabilities. Handset sales were US$65.6 billion, easily beating Wall Street estimates of US$60.3 billion. Consumers were lured by 5G capabilities, especially in China, and the upgraded camera features of the Pro models.

“This strength in iPhone sales provides evidence for Apple bulls that another iPhone super cycle maybe in the cards,” Dan Morgan, a senior portfolio manager at Synovus Trust Company. The last super cycle occurred with the iPhone 6 back in 2014 and launches since then have “felt more like ripples opposed to a wave,” he added.

On a conference call with analysts, Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook and Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri were confident about the iPhone business. They said the pricier iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max models with better cameras have sold particularly well. The executives also highlighted strong sales in China, saying there was pent up demand there for iPhones with 5G capabilities.

Apple also said the number of active devices topped 1.65 billion in the fiscal first quarter, which includes more than 1 billion active iPhone users. Cook added that Apple saw the largest number of upgraders ever during the period and noted that switching from other smartphones was also strong.

Beyond the iPhone, Apple reported iPad sales of US$8.44 billion, topping projections of US$7.58 billion. The company launched a redesigned iPad Air and a faster entry-level model during the quarter. Mac sales were US$8.68 billion, missing estimates of US$8.86 billion. That comes despite Apple launching a new MacBook Pro, Mac mini and MacBook Air during the quarter.

“They were probably supply constrained during the quarter. There are still significant delays for shipments for some models,” Cross said.

The influx of new hardware purchases also led to strong growth of the services segment, which includes the App Store, iTunes, Apple Music, and iCloud. The company reported US$15.8 billion from services in the quarter, topping estimates of US$14.9 billion.

The company highlighted strong growth for iCloud subscriptions, Apple Music and the App Store, but did not provide details on the performance of TV+, its new video streaming service. The company recently extended free trials of TV+ for several more months.

Apple launched four major new products in the quarter into its Wearables, Home, and Accessories segment: the Apple Watch Series 6, Apple Watch SE, the HomePod mini speaker and AirPods Max headphones. Those devices gave Apple its strongest quarter to date for that segment with revenue of US$12.97 billion. Analysts estimated US$11.84 billion.

Apple saw significant growth in all major geographies, including in Greater China where sales jumped to US$21.3 billion from US$13.6 billion a year ago. The company reported US$46.3 billion in revenue in the Americas region, up about US$5 billion from the year-ago period.