Despite Apple’s Modest Earnings Guidance, the Street Expects Big Things
Apple’s fourth quarter is typically a slow one for the world’s most valuable public company. And with consumers likely delaying iPhone and iPad purchases ahead of the launch of the iPhone 5 and iPad mini, this one may have been a bit slower than usual.
Certainly that’s what Apple suggested back in July, when it said it expected fourth-quarter earnings of $7.65 a share on revenue of about $34 billion. That was a conservative take, even for a company that is notorious for giving conservative guidance, and it fell well short of the consensus forecast at the time.
So, what can we expect when Apple reports after market close today?
Well … Wall Street is looking for earnings of $8.91 per share on sales of $36.27 billion, which is far in excess of Apple’s lowball guidance. The independent analysts tracked by Fortune are expecting earnings of $10.14 on sales of $38.8 billion, which is even further beyond Cupertino’s numbers. And it’s impossible to say who is likely to come out closest to the mark.
A few things worth noting ahead of Apple’s report:
- Apple shares are up more than 50 percent so far this year. But they’re also down 10 percent from the record closing high of $702.10 they hit last month.
- Analysts tempered their iPad sales forecast Tuesday after Apple CEO Tim Cook said that the company had sold 100 million iPads to date. Many extrapolated from that number and concluded that fourth-quarter shipments might fall slightly below their expectations of about 17.5 million.
- Apple refreshed its MacBook Air and Pro lines in June, and that almost certainly drove Mac sales a bit.
- The iPhone will be the major catalyst in the quarter, just as it always is. That said, the iPhone 5 shipped on Sept. 21, and was on sale for just nine full days before the fiscal quarter closed, and while demand for the device was, and continues to be, insatiable, supplies have been constrained. Remember, Apple sold five million iPhone 5s over the handset’s launch weekend, and that was viewed by Wall Street as a disappointment. Analysts figure Apple sold 25 million to 26 million iPhones in the fourth quarter.
- Apple’s next quarter is really the one to watch. The company is heading into the holidays with a new iPhone, a new iPad, a new smaller iPad, new iPods, a new iMac and Mac Mini, and the eagerly anticipated 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro. With that in mind, some analysts feel Apple’s fourth quarter is something of a … throwaway.
“Our view is that September quarter numbers do not matter,” J.P. Morgan analyst Mark Moskowitz said in a Wednesday research note to clients. “Apple can miss or beat. It does not matter. … In our view, the two important iPhone and iPad launches set the stage for big numbers to be reported in late January 2013 as relates to December quarter results.”
Apple will release its numbers sometime after 1 pm PT today, with an earnings call to follow at 2 pm. Join us back here for coverage.