Technology

Apple expected to post fourth consecutive quarterly sales decline Thursday

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Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple Inc., center, greets a shopper at the company’s Fifth Avenue store in New York, US, on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023. 
Gabby Jones | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Apple is expected to post its fourth consecutive quarterly revenue decline when it reports earnings after the bell Thursday. Wall Street expects $89.28 billion in sales, which would mark about a 1% fall from the same quarter last year.

Apple stock is up about 32.5% so far this year, partially due to the perception of Apple as a fortress-like company with strong cash flow, popular products, and a globally-known brand. But analysts haven’t missed Apple’s lack of growth this year and want to see revenue increasing again.

They’ll want to hear about how the current quarter, which is usually its largest thanks to the holiday shopping season, is shaking out. Apple hasn’t given official guidance since 2020, but CFO Luca Maestri often gives a few data points on a call with analysts that point to where Apple thinks it is headed. They will also be paying close attention to any clues about how demand for the iPhone 15 lineup is faring.

The September quarter isn’t Apple’s biggest or slowest quarter of the year and only includes about a week or so of iPhone 15 sales. The December quarter is Apple’s biggest of the year by revenue — right now, analysts expect $122.97 billion in sales, or 5% growth, even versus a quarter last year that included an extra week because of fiscal calendars.

Apple’s fiscal fourth quarter period typically includes a little bit of back-to-school laptop and tablet spending benefitting its Mac and iPad divisions. But Apple warned in August that it expected Mac and iPad revenue to decline by “double digit” percentages, blaming difficult comparisons to a good quarter in 2022 when sales popped after prior supply issues.

The mood among analysts, especially in regard to expectations for the fourth quarter, is changing.

Morgan Stanley analyst Erik Woodring says that there are four forces working against Apple in the December quarter: An unfavorable comparison, a strong dollar, iPhone supply issues, and a cautious consumer.

“Sentiment has turned more challenging for shares of Apple in recent days with increasing concerns around the lower demand for the iPhone 15 Series in China, as well as lackluster consumer spending momentum globally,” wrote JPMorgan analyst Samik Chatterjee earlier this week in a note to investors.

China

Hundreds of people lined up at a flagship Apple store in Beijing to pick up the new iPhone 15 when deliveries began on Friday.
CNBC | Evelyn Cheng

One data point from a market research firm tracking smartphone sales suggested that iPhone 15 sales started off slow in China this year.Wall Street analysts who cover Apple worry that renewed competition from Huawei in China could be making the iPhone less competitive in the company’s third-largest market. It could show up in Apple’s future guidance.

“Apple does have a China problem. I think when it comes to the phone, my sense is it’s going to be soft in China for the Sept. quarter,” Deepwater Asset Management founder Gene Munster said on CNBC earlier this week.

There’s some disagreement among analysts whether the Huawei competition is a temporary or permanent factor for Apple.

“Importantly, we believe the data suggests increased competition from Huawei in China is likely to be a headwind next year,” Oppenheimer analyst Martin Yang wrote in a note last month.

Some reviews of this year’s new premium Huawei device suggest it is technologically inferior.

“We expect Huawei-related pressure on iPhone to be temporary and moderate into FY24 due to significantly outdated chipset on the Mate 60 series,” wrote Oppenheimer analyst Martin Yang.

During the quarter, the Wall Street Journal reported on new efforts from the Chinese government to ban foreign technology from government agencies, which many saw as a signal about the company’s changing fortunes in the region and raised the possibility that national pride or future government regulations could push Chinese consumers away from Apple.

“With Huawei’s unexpected launch of Mate 60 Pro and Chinese government’s ban of using
foreign phones for government workers, iPhone market share in China has been a big concern for investors,” wrote Citi analyst Atif Malik.

Global iPhone sales

In other regions, investors want to know if the iPhone 15 is selling like hotcakes, or if it’s not moving off store shelves as fast as previous years. Analysts call the strength of any given year’s iPhone sales the “cycle.”

Apple launched new iPhones in September with a lighter, redesigned titanium body, a longer telephoto lens, and a USB-C charging port.

“We are in the camp that [iPhone 15] is not a good cycle on demand weakness and elongation of replacement cycles,” Barclays analyst Tim Long wrote.

While analysts track ship times on Apple’s website and third-party estimates for iPhone sales, there’s no substitute for color from Apple CEO Tim Cook or sales numbers, either from the week or so the iPhone 15 was on sale in September or through its unofficial guidance for the December quarter.

Another factor is that some analysts are pointing to supply constraints on some iPhones, particularly the higher-end and more expensive “Pro” models which could push some sales out of the December quarter and into the January quarter.

“However, we are more cautious on the December quarter given iPhone supply shortages and uneven consumer spending, and believe Apple will guide to a revenue range that is both below normal seasonality and consensus expectations,” wrote Woodring, the Morgan Stanley analyst.

Estimates, the Mac, and Services

One business line that is expected to be in rough shape this quarter is Apple’s Mac business. Analysts expect $8.5 billion in sales, which would be a 26% drop from last year. Apple executives could focus on the fact it just released new MacBooks with chips on Oct. 30 with new chips to stoke more interest, analysts say.

One bright spot is expected to be Apple’s services business, even as the Google trial in Washington DC highlights how much of that is from Google paying Apple to be the default search engine on iPhones, and puts that reportedly $19 billion per year deal at risk over antitrust. Apple is expected to report $21.42 billion in services revenue, offsetting some weak hardware revenue, and which would be an 11% year-over-year increase.

Here’s what Wall Street is expecting, per LSEG, formerly Refinitiv, estimates:

  • Revenue: $89.28 billion
  • EPS: $1.39

Here’s what to expect from the company’s product lines, per Street Account estimates:

  • iPhone revenue: $44 billion
  • iPad revenue: $6.14 billion
  • Mac revenue: $8.5 billion
  • Other products: $9.4 billion
  • Services: $21.42 billion

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