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  • Finding Bad News in Good News About Apple

    October 29th, 2013

    So on the surface, Apple had a pretty decent quarter. iPhone sales were unexpectedly high, growing 26% over last year to set a new record for this time of year. In contrast, iPad sales grew just a tiny bit, and Mac sales continued to drop, though not quite as bad as some other PC makers. Regardless, the critics will find bad news aplenty. They always do.

    So here are the basics: In the fiscal 2013 fourth quarter ending September 28, Apple took in $37.5 billion, with a net profit of $7.5 billion, or $8.26 per diluted share. But notice that this number was only somewhat better than last year’s $36 billion in revenue, but shy of last year’s net profit of $8.2 billion or $8.67 per diluted share.

    That’s where the street seems to have concerns, that Apple’s great profits may not be so great going forward. Of course, they are still better than other hardware companies, but Apple must play by a different set of rules.

    Now as far as the specifics: Apple sold some 33.8 million iPhones, compared to 26.9 million last year, no doubt the result of the blowout introduction of the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c. As you recall, some nine million of them were sold the very first weekend. After a drop in the previous quarter, Apple managed to sell 14.1 million iPads ahead of the expected introduction of new models, which in fact occurred last week, as most of you recall. Last year, 14 million were sold.

    Now it may be better this quarter, but some 4.6 million Macs were sold in the last quarter, compared to 4.9 million in the year-ago quarter. Yes, new iMacs were introduced four days before the end of the quarter, and there was a new MacBook Air launch in the previous quarter. But the mainstream MacBook Pro with Retina display was clearly getting a tad long in the tooth, and I suspect Mac Pro sales have fallen off the cliff except for customers who would rather have the old than the new because of the lack of internal expansion.

    In case you’re wondering, overall PC sales were down 10 percent over the last quarter, at least according to Apple. If correct, this means that the Mac is still ahead of the industry, though declining sales are still declining sales. This does seem to explain why the refreshed MacBook Pro with Retina display is $200 cheaper, and Mavericks, iLife and iWork are now free.

    In keeping with the new policy about dividends, Apple’s board declared $3.05 per share, payable November 14 for shareholders on record as of November 11. So I suppose that move will make the stock more attractive to investors. Meantime, investor Carl Icahn continues to push the company for a larger stock buyback, which may look good in the financial community, but hardly helps Apple sell more gear.

    Speaking of which: For this quarter, Apple expects revenue between $55 billion of $58 billion, with gross margins ranging from 36.5 percent to 37.5 percent. If you want more of the raw figures, you’ll want to visit Apple site and check out the press release.

    During the quarterly call with financial analysts, Apple gave the usual rosy picture of sales and hopes for the future. So there’s the claim that 90 percent of tablet activations last quarter were iPads. What about Kindles, Androids? As usual the people asking the questions aren’t too good about the hard questions and the follow-ups.

    But here are some more interesting numbers: Of those who expect to buy a smartphone in the next few weeks, 63% plan to choose the iPhone. The satisfaction rate is 90%, and, to the surprise of some media pundits who claim otherwise, the iPhone 5c was never meant to be the cheap iPhone. This year, that honor falls on the iPhone 4s.

    When it comes to the iPad, CEO Tim Cook said the company wasn’t sure whether they could meet meet demand for the iPad mini with Retina display this quarter, which could potentially depress sales. But perhaps some customers will go for the iPad Air, while others will prefer paying a “bargain” price of $299 for a first generation iPad mini and give up on the sharper display.

    While I suppose there may be yet another small product intro, perhaps a new Mac mini with Haswell chips, all eyes are no doubt focused on what Apple plans for 2014. During the conference call, Cook again promised “exciting new products” for 2014, and that new product categories are part of the program. That should help raise speculation on just what those categories might be.

    That takes us back to ongoing rumors about wearable devices, such as an iWatch. So far, reaction to existing gear has been tepid, and Samsung’s highly-touted Galaxy Gear smartwatch has gotten lukewarm reviews. There are also reports of high returns, in part because the new gadget isn’t compatible with many mobile devices. This is unlike the cheaper Pebble smartwatch that boasts the ability to pair with both Android and iOS gear.

    There’s also the world of television, and whether Apple’s next move is a fleshed out Apple TV set top box, or a full blown TV set — or both. Some expected a new Apple TV this year, but all that’s arrived so far is a set of software updates to add more channels and fix bugs. It’s also a little late in the season, at least for Apple, to hold yet another media event this year to introduce something new and different.

    So looking to 2014 makes sense, while those concerned about Apple’s financials will continue to worry about whether Apple will be able to meet demand for the iPhone 5s and the iPad mini this quarter.



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