Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Apple Beats on Earnings and Revenue, But Is It Enough?

Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) posted their 3rd quarter earnings after the bell this afternoon, and on the surface, at least, the news sounded good.  They beat earnings by $0.04, and they also beat on revenue by $310 million.  In after-hours trading, shares of AAPL surged as high as 8% before settling back to $103.60.  They also held their quarterly dividend steady at $0.57 per share.

The underlying picture, though, is not quite so rosy.  Their sales were down 14.5% year over year, and their gross margin dropped to 38%.  In fact, their forward guidance for the next quarter includes a gross margin range of only 37.5% to 38%, and their forecast for revenue is up slightly from this quarter, but still well below last year.

International sales contributed to 63% of their revenue this quarter, but sales in China were down 33% from last year.  The Apple troubles in China continue, in fact, not only due to the slowing economy in Asia but also resulting from difficulties with Chinese regulators.  The iBooks and iTunes services were shut down by regulators last April, and in June the Chinese government ordered a halt to iPhone 6 sales due to a patent dispute.  (We'll skip the editorial about the hypocrisy of China arguing about a patent infringement.)  The point is, China was once seen as the major growth market for Apple, but at least for now that market has run dry.

The Services business, including iTunes and Apple Pay, were up 19% year over year, however on a quarter-to-quarter basis, it was essentially flat.  Despite Credit Suisse's forecast of the services business providing over 30% of Apple's revenue by 2020, the reality is that the current growth trends are not supporting that prediction.  With Google and Samsung both entering the payment market with comparable products, the competition faced by Apple Pay is becoming formidable. 

Demand for iPhones, iPads, and Macs appears to have peaked.  The iPhone market is already saturated, and the tablet and personal computer markets are crumbling, at least as far as the average consumer is concerned.  The iPad is still doing fairly well in certain business applications, but when it comes to the average consumer, the phablet is rapidly replacing them.  To that end, with the extremely popular Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 edge out for 6 months, now, the iPhone 7 (with an expected larger screen offering) is a bit late to the dance.

The question that Apple must seriously entertain is whether or not a change at the top is in order.  CEO Tim Cook has yet to prove that he's capable of driving the innovation needed to keep Apple at the top of the industry.  I've seen an increasing number of analysts state that, in their view, Apple's best days are behind them, and thus far I've seen nothing to contradict that opinion.  There has certainly been no innovation coming from the company since the passing of Steve Jobs.  It may well be that the "next new thing" to come out of Apple will be a new CEO.

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