Once again, the Apple story will be dominated by the strength of iPhone demand.
Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images
Apple will report financial results for the December quarter after the close of trading on Thursday. If ever there was a time when the stock market really needed Apple to crush the numbers, this is it.
Street estimates call for Apple (ticker: AAPL) to report $119 billion in sales, which would be up about 7% from a year ago. The Street sees profits of $1.90 a share, up from $1.68.
Apple shares closed down 0.1%, at $159.69, on Wednesday. The S&P 500 was down 0.2%.
Apple stopped providing detailed financial guidance at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, and has yet to resume the practice, but Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri said one quarter ago that the company expects “very solid” year-over-year growth in the December quarter, though he warned that iPad sales could be muted by supply constraints. Maestri also cautioned at the time that chip shortages in the December quarter would have a bigger impact on financial results than they did in the September quarter.
Once again, the Apple story will be dominated by the strength of iPhone demand. The Street is expecting iPhone sales of $67.6 billion, up about 3% from a year ago, representing about 57% of projected overall revenue. Services revenue is projected to grow 18.5%, to $18.7 billion. For Macs, the Street sees revenue of $9.9 billion, up 13.9%, while for the Wearables, Home and Accessories segment, the consensus forecast is $14.4 billion, up 10.7%. Taking a cue from Maestri’s warning, Street consensus calls for iPad sales to fall 2.9%, to $8.2 billion.
For the March quarter, the Street consensus calls for sales of $90.2 billion, with profits of $1.32 a share. That includes an expected decline in iPhone sales to $46.6 billion.
Evercore ISI analyst Amit Daryanani wrote in a recent research note previewing the quarter that the company is likely to meet or beat Street estimates for the December quarter, but he worries that current expectations for the March quarter are too aggressive. He notes that historically, March-quarter sales have been down about 32% sequentially from the December quarter—but he points out that current Street models call for a more modest 25% drop. He thinks the total could be around $85 billion, well below the Street consensus.
Nonetheless, Daryanani maintains his Outperform rating and $210 target price on Apple shares, writing that the company “remains well positioned to deliver both secular earnings growth and significant capital returns over a multi-year period.”
D.A. Davidson analyst Tom Forte likewise remains bullish headed into the quarter, although he recently wrote that his $175 price target is “under review” ahead of the earnings report. Forte sees three potential catalysts for Apple shares over the next 12 months: continued strong iPhone sales, driven by 5G; strong growth in newer product categories, in particular Apple Watch and Apple TV+; and accelerated stock repurchases and potential higher dividends.
Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty wrote in a recent research note that she thinks December-quarter results will be modestly ahead of current estimates, driven in particular by strong iPhone sales—her forecast is for $72.1 billion, way above the Street. In previewing the quarter, Huberty repeated her Overweight rating and $200 target on Apple shares, asserting that “revenue stability, upcoming product launches and expansion into new markets” makes Apple a defensive pick in a rising-interest-rate environment.
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