Earnings Outlook: What will Apple say about the next iPhone at earnings time? Maybe more than usual

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The pandemic may add a wrinkle to the guessing game that normally accompanies Apple Inc.’s June-quarter conference call.

Typically the most important tidbit coming out of fiscal third-quarter earnings, which Apple AAPL, +1.20% is scheduled to report Tuesday afternoon, is the company’s outlook and commentary around its September-quarter revenue, which can hold clues as to what the company expects in the early days of its next smartphone launch. A strong forecast may imply that the company intends to make its new lineup available during the waning days of its fiscal year, while weaker guidance could suggest the launch will be pushed in to the calendar fourth quarter.

The problem this time around is that Apple has held off on issuing a formal outlook for more than a year amid the pandemic, and it remains unclear when or if the company will resume the practice. Apple has instead been offering “directional insights” to offer some indication of how its results could stack up to those of prior quarters, but it has been notoriously tight-lipped about plans for iPhone launches.

“We expect the timing of iPhone 13 availability will ultimately prove to be the swing factor in [the fiscal fourth quarter], thus we anticipate the company will provide more granular directional commentary,” wrote Monness, Crespi, Hardt & Co. analyst Brian White.

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The coming launch is of keen interest given that the current lineup has performed well. “The iPhone 12 cycle has been strong but we believe the next two cycles may prove challenging with units potentially down [year over year] in FY22 and FY23,” wrote Barclays analyst Tim Long.

The June quarter that Apple will report Tuesday is traditionally a slower one, as consumers wait for the next iPhone launch, but the company is still expected to deliver big growth in its smartphone business. Not only does the company have the benefit of easy comparisons to the early days of the pandemic, but it should also be reaping the rewards of an unusually promotional wireless industry.

What to watch for

Earnings: Analysts tracked by FactSet expect Apple to post $ 1.01 in earnings per share, up from 65 cents a year earlier. According to Estimize, which crowdsources projections from hedge funds, academics, and others, the average expectation is for $ 1.16 a share in EPS.

Revenue: The FactSet consensus calls for $ 73.26 billion in overall revenue, up from $ 59.69 billion a year prior. On Estimize, the average estimate is for $ 77.38 billion.

On a segment level, analysts surveyed by FactSet project $ 34.19 billion in iPhone revenue, $ 7.17 billion in iPad revenue, $ 7.86 billion in Mac revenue, $ 16.26 billion in services revenue, and $ 7.83 billion in revenue for the wearables, home, and accessories category.

Stock movement: Apple shares have fallen after four of the past five earnings reports, though the stock is up 60% over the past 12 months as the Dow Jones Industrial Average has increased 32%.

Of the 44 analysts tracked by FactSet who cover Apple’s stock, 33 have buy ratings, nine have hold ratings and two have sell ratings, with an average price target of $ 157.88.

What else to watch for

Apple’s iPhone business is set up for its second-largest rate of growth in at least three years, behind only what was seen in the previous quarter. Analysts tracked by FactSet are calling for $ 34.2 billion in iPhone revenue, up 29.4% from a year earlier.

Some encouraging signals came from Verizon Communications Inc. VZ, -0.13%, which recently ran a big iPhone promotion as it sought to match discounts at rival AT&T Inc. T, +0.50%

“Momentum built throughout the quarter, and we timed our promotions to take full advantage of the economic recovery and increased customer activity,” Verizon Chief Financial Officer Matthew Ellis said on his company’s earnings call. About 20% of Verizon’s consumer base is now using 5G-enabled phones.

Raymond James analyst Chris Caso noted that the quantity of upgrades might not even be the most important factor, as his analysis of iPhone carrier deals from last year found that they can be helpful in driving a greater “mix” of more expensive devices.

“Consumers appear to have been willing to pay the few dollars per month to upgrade to higher-end models, if the base model was offered for free,” he wrote, based on analyzing last year’s subsidies.

Read: How Silicon Valley is returning to work with a mask non-mandate

UBS analyst David Vogt is also feeling upbeat about the business heading into the fiscal third-quarter report, pointing to positive signs in the telecommunications industry like the “aggressive promotions” and improving retail traffic at wireless stores.

But he notes that demand may not be the big issue for Apple, as the company’s overall upside is “gated” due to supply constraints plaguing the broader electronics industry and beyond. Apple addressed these issues on its earnings call, projecting a $ 3 billion to $ 4 billion negative revenue impact in the June quarter that was mainly expected to affect the Mac and iPad businesses.

Another key narrative is how those two segments held up more generally given a return to more normalized activities outside the home. Apple’s Macs and iPads were popular purchases among those needing new hardware to power remote working and schooling, but analysts will be looking to see whether the personal-computer boom is sustainable.

“While Apple will have to contend with lapping very difficult pandemic comparisons in the [June quarter] and for several quarters thereafter, we see several near-term tailwinds from both categories,” wrote CFRA analyst Angelo Zino. “We see corporate upgrades on the enterprise level becoming a bigger contributor to demand as the economy fully reopens across the globe.”

The coming results will also be the first gauge on demand for Apple’s new colorful iMac lineup and powerful iPad Pro, both of which rolled out in the spring and feature the company’s custom M1 chip.