As Apple prepares to release its latest quarterly earnings reports today, it’s likely that the numbers will provide only some of the answers to questions being asked about the company’s recent performance and its future.
On a high level, these are the best of times for Apple. The stock is trading at all-time highs. And analysts and investors seem convinced the new iPhone X is going to be a blockbuster that reignites growth at Apple.
In fiscal year 2016, ending September 30, Apple reported its first decline in annual revenue in more than a decade, thanks to softer interest in the iPhone 7. Today, Apple will release its Q4 2017 report, and the good news is that the company is on pace to post a nice increase in annual revenue.
Through the first nine months of FY 2017, Apple reported $176.7 billion in revenue, up from $168.8 billion for the same period one year ago.
Analysts expect Apple to report $50.74 billion for Q4, an increase from $46.9 billion one year ago. That would give Apple $227.44 billion for the year, up from $215.64 billion for FY 2016 — though that would still be down from the peak in FY 2015 of $233.7 billion.
Since that highwater mark two years ago, Apple has essentially hit a plateau in iPhone sales, its most critical product. The iPad has continued to decline, though it showed some signs of stabilizing this summer. And the company saw its once-promising foothold in China slip as local Android-based competitors surged far ahead.
But there’s deep faith in Apple. And many hoped the release of new iPhones on the gadget’s 10th anniversary would signal the start of a new phase of growth.
However, Apple complicated that narrative by taking an unusual approach to the latest iPhone launch this year. First, it released the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus in September. Both got somewhat lukewarm receptions from critics — solid improvements but not exceptional — and sales were reportedly soft.
So that’s going to be the first big questions analysts are looking for: What do the latest earnings tell us about the initial sales of the iPhone 8? Apple, as it always does, will claim it’s a strong start. The problem is that, as is traditionally the case, these new iPhones were only on sale for less than two weeks in the quarter. They generally only affect revenues at the margins, and they would really had to have tanked to cause Apple to miss earnings estimates. That likely won’t happen, and so executives can expect additional questions today to try to better understand how the iPhone 8 is performing.
Likewise, the earnings release comes just one day before the iPhone X officially goes on sale. Preorders started last Friday, and Apple claimed orders were “off the charts.” But with wait times up to six weeks, this seemed to confirm fears that there were production issues that led to the late launch date and limited supplies.
Apple won’t be required to release any numbers around presales. But analysts will be listening carefully to see what kind of guidance they give for this current quarter, historically Apple’s biggest of the year. Analyst consensus is that Apple will have revenues of $85.56 billion in the holiday quarter.
If Apple gives guidance below that, it could cause some analysts and investors to panic. But more likely, they’ll give Apple one more quarter to see if they can get supply and demand back in sync.
One of the brightest spots for Apple has been the acceleration of growth in its Services business. Driven by App downloads, Apple Music, and Apple Pay, this has been Apple’s biggest growth area over past year. Simply put, analysts are hoping to see this continue.
Analysts would also like to see if the Apple Watch, particularly with a new version released in September, is gaining even more traction. Apple now dominates the global smartwatch market, such as it is. But the company typically doesn’t break out Apple Watch sales. So at the very least, analysts will be hoping to hear some comments about its progress in the last quarter.
More challenging is the question of China. The company has been slumping there despite big investments. There have been some hints that the iPhone 8 has done well there so far. But analysts will be looking for indications that Apple has turned things around.
Finally, remember the HomePod? Apple announced it over the summer, but has been pretty silent about it since. It appears to be on target to start selling in December, but the company has yet to give a firm date. It’s probably a long shot that the company will announce a date today, but who knows?
No one is expecting the device to be a blockbuster out of the gate. But Apple needs to catch up to Amazon and Google in this area. And any new product launch could goose revenues, even just a bit.
Expect analysts to ask about the HomePod. Expect Apple to remain coy.