Apple Inc. powered through a pandemic to deliver record holiday and annual sales in 2020, and is expected to push through a supply-chain crisis to beat those records in 2021.
The smartphone giant wasn’t immune from a global supply crunch in the December quarter, but executives at Apple AAPL, -1.45% said three months ago that they expected sales to grow from last year’s record despite those issues, despite not issuing a formal forecast. Analysts also generally aren’t sweating the manufacturing issues that drove Apple to its first revenue miss in 12 quarters during the September period.
When the company reports fiscal first-quarter earnings Thursday afternoon, analysts expect Apple’s operational strength and buying power as the largest U.S. company will help it hit new sales records for a holiday season and calendar year. Those surveyed by FactSet are calling for $118.9 billion in December-quarter revenue, ahead of the $111.4 billion that Apple recorded a year earlier, which would lead to a record $373.3 billion in sales for the full calendar year, up from $294.1 billion in 2020.
While Apple is expected to survive supply-chain issues, investors will be looking for signs that Apple executives expect to see some relief in 2022, though few expect a formal forecast.
“We expect a focus on any commentary supportive of a belief that the supply chain is improving, continued confidence in strong end-user demand across the portfolio, as well as services/subscriptions momentum,” Wells Fargo analyst Aaron Rakers wrote.
It remains to be seen how much good news on earnings could help Apple’s stock, though. Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty thinks that the company wasn’t as negatively impacted by manufacturing issues as expected, which could allow it to deliver upbeat results and offer guidance for a “relatively in-line March quarter,” but she believes that prospect is largely baked into Apple’s stock price.
As Apple chases its quarterly-sales record, it remains shy of a market-capitalization milestone. Its stock briefly touched the level required for a $3 trillion valuation in intraday trading earlier this month, but it failed to close at the necessary threshold and has been headed in the wrong direction since.
Shares closed Monday at $161.62; they need to finish above $182.86 for Apple to become the first U.S. company to close with a $3 trillion valuation. That threshold will likely get higher after the earnings report, when Apple will show an updated share count reflective of recent buyback activity.
What to watch for
Earnings: Analysts tracked by FactSet expect that Apple earned $1.89 a share in its fiscal first quarter, higher than the $1.68 a share that it recorded a year earlier. According to Estimize, which crowdsources projections from hedge funds, academics, and others, the average estimate was for $1.96 a share.
Revenue: The FactSet consensus models $118.9 billion in revenue for Apple’s December quarter, up from $111.4 billion a year before. The average projection on Estimize is $120.4 billion.
Analysts surveyed by FactSet are looking for $67.6 billion in iPhone revenue, $8.2 billion in iPad revenue, $9.9 billion in Mac revenue, $18.7 billion in services revenue and $14.3 billion in revenue for the wearables, home, and accessories category.
Stock movement: Shares of Apple have declined in the session following each of the company’s past five earnings reports. While shares are off about 12% from their intraday high of $182.94 notched earlier in January, they’re still up roughly 9% on a three-month basis, outperforming the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -0.66% and S&P 500 SPX, -1.46%.
Of the 44 analysts tracked by FactSet who cover Apple’s stock, 34 have buy-equivalent ratings, eight have hold ratings and two have sell ratings, with an average price target of $178.57.
What analysts are saying
Apple’s iPhone story is about more than just the company’s supply-chain issues. Just a few months after the company’s iPhone 13 launch, analysts are curious about demand for the phones, especially at higher price points and in China.
Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives said that average selling prices for the iPhone are still “very positive,” one reason he’s upbeat about the current product cycle.
CFRA Research’s Angelo Zino is particularly excited about dynamics in China. He expects that the company has been taking share at the high end of the market due to sanction-related pressures on rival Huawei. Apple could also be benefiting in China as smaller players struggle to deal with supply crunches of their own.
“We estimate in China alone there were roughly 15 million iPhone 13 upgrades in the December quarter,” Ives added.
Success in the iPhone business might come with some trade-offs, however, according to Zino. He predicts that the company gave priority to the iPhone over the iPad when it came to chip production, since the iPhone represents a more lucrative business.
Apple Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri projected during the last earnings call that the company would notch year-over-year revenue growth in every product category except for iPads in the holiday quarter.
Morgan Stanley’s Huberty sees room for Apple to come in ahead of consensus estimates for the services business, fueled in part by a stronger-than-expected performance for the App Store. Overall, she thinks services will show “relative strength” this fiscal year in a positive signal for Apple’s margins.
Meanwhile, those expecting a true quarterly outlook from Apple may have to keep waiting. The company hasn’t given a traditional financial forecast since the start of the pandemic, and Huberty thinks that the company will once again hold off on providing a numerical range for revenue guidance, instead opting for statements on expected performance relative to recent quarters.