Unfortunately for the price of Apple (AAPL) shares and for Apple shareholders, Wall Street estimates for the September quarter that Apple reported last night, October 25, were almost precisely on track.
Apple beat earnings estimates by a penny, reporting $1.67 a share. Revenue was almost exactly inline with consensus at $46.85 billion versus the Wall Street projection of $46.98 billion. And the company shipped 45.5 million iPhones in the quarter against estimates of 45.2 million.
The problem with all those numbers, as I pointed out in my October 24 post, is that the earnings number amounted to Apple’s first year over year decline in profits in 15 years. And so did the revenue number. And so did the number of iPhones shipped in the quarter.
Profits for the quarter, at $9 billion, showed a 19% drop from the September quarter of 2015.
Revenue was down 9% from the September quarter of 2015. That marks the third consecutive decline in revenue.
iPhone shipments fell from last year’s 48.05 million, a decline of 5%. The year over year drop in iPhone sales was a first for what is now Apple’s flagship product.
The news from Apple’s other products certainly didn’t make up for the drop in iPhone sales. iPad sales at 9.3 million matched Wall Street estimates but were down from 9.9 million in the September quarter of 2015. Sales of the company’s Macintosh computers were 4.9 million. That was below the 5.2 million units Wall Street had projected and down from the 5.7 million sold in this quarter of 2015. (Apple will announce a long-overdue refresh of its Macintosh line on Thursday, October 27.)
Apple shares had closed 0.51% higher at $118.25 in the official session in New York and then moved to $114.95, a 2.79% drop, in after-hours trading.
I don’t expect that Apple’s guidance in its conference call last night will reverse the after-hours slide. The company said it would show revenue of $76 to $78 billion in the December quarter (the first quarter of Apple’s fiscal year). That’s a improvement from the pre-earnings Wall Street estimate of $75.33 billion, but the company guidance represents just a 1% increase on the December 2015 quarter. And at the same time Apple signaled continuing earnings trouble forecasting gross margins of 38.0% to 38.5% versus the 39% Wall Street was projecting before this earnings report and against the 40.1% gross margins of the December quarter in 2015.
Going forward the shares face three problems.
First, Apple shares have rallied from a low of $90.34 in May and from as low as $103 in early September. That means there are a lot of investors sitting on recent profits. I think a lot of them will decide to take those gains now rather than wait for the next turn in the iPhone sales cycle with the iPhone 8 in 2017. The 50-day moving average is $111.93.
Second, Apple faces a demand from tax authorities in the European Union to pay 13 billion euros ($14.1 billion) in back taxes. The tax authorities have ruled that the ultra-low tax rate that Apple paid as part of a deal with Ireland amounted to illegal state aid under the rules of the European Union. The deal capped Apple’s tax rate at just 1% and in 2014 Apple paid just 0.005% in taxes. The standard corporate tax rate in Ireland is a still low 12.5%.
And, third, Apple’s iPhone revenue problem is all too easy to sum up with a simple but powerful narrative. I’ve already started to hear Wall Street analysts and commentators say that we’re seeing “peak Apple” and conclude that Apple has saturated the market for its products. It’s hard to quickly reverse that kind of narrative.
All that means, I think, that Apple shares face a rough quarter or two or three at the least. But I don’t believe that means you should abandon Apple shares forever. Later this week, Thursday if everything goes on schedule, which it almost never does, I’ll tell you why I think Apple is a must own stock for the next wave of device technology and for the next five years (or more.)