Preview: Apple Q3 Earnings

Earnings season is in full swing and there’s a big name on the calendar this week.

Apple will announce its Q3 earnings after the market close on Tuesday, and it looks like it could be a mixed bag.

The tech giant saw revenue fall in the first two quarters of this fiscal year and a profits warning from Tim Cook at the start of the year. While guidance suggests that things are improving, this report could throw a few surprises our way.

“What we know: It’s tough in China, iPhone sales are not what they were, Services growth is strong,” said Neil Wilson, Chief Markets Analyst at MARKETS.COM.

“What we don’t know: if things have improved in China as was hinted at in the Q2 release and what the outlook for the rest of the year looks like. Q3 is always a bit dull, so as is often the case, the guidance for the rest of the year is key.”

The year so far

The Q2 report three months ago had its ups and downs, however Apple did report in-line earnings and upbeat guidance for the next quarter.

Guidance for the fiscal third quarter of $52.5bn-$54.5bn was particularly impressive, and well ahead of forecasts.

While Apple’s Q2 results overall were a boost to the tech sector, iPhone revenue came under pressure as it dropped 17% to $31.1 billion. Greater China sales were down 22% from the year previous, but the report hinted that things were improving, with sales picking up as the quarter progressed.

Overall revenues were down 5%, in line with consensus. EPS came in at $2.46.

Services revenues climbed to an all-time high of $11.45bn, up 16% from the year ago period, as the tech giant switches much of its attention (and investment) away from products towards services and software.

“Of course, this is very strong,” Wilson said. “But we did note at the time some mild concern that the growth rate is slowing from the fiery levels we saw last year when we got +30% prints.”

What to expect

This report will include earnings for Q3, but also the outlook for the upcoming two quarters. These will be interesting given the worries about the iPhone. Following the Q2 report, Tim Cook admitted that consumers were slower to upgrade to a new handset. This is likely to be further impacted by the guidance for the 5G refresh.

Apple’s recent acquisition of Intel’s smartphone modem business for $1bn suggests they are committed to making improvements that consumers want. However, 5G is not expected until 2020, so the iPhone 11 refresh due this autumn will likely only have small tweaks – something consumers are increasingly unwilling to give up their existing handset for.

It’s quite likely, therefore, that consumers will wait for the release of the 5G models next year, putting further pressure on iPhone sales.

In terms of what to expect about services, Wilson said: “Not only are we looking at the absolute growth rate here, but also the impact on margins for the company as a whole and the shift in the balance. Apple Services margins came in at 63.8% in Q2. For the group, management guided gross margin to be between 37% and 38%.

“However, Services makes up about 20% of Apple’s revenue, up from 16% a year before – at what point can Apple start to guide its margins higher? This could be an area for an upside surprise, if not now then perhaps heading into the year-end. A slowing in the Services growth rate from the 16% in Q2 would be a concern.”

We’ll also be on the lookout for data about the new services launched in March – News Plus, Apple Arcade, and Apple TV Plus. At the time, Cook was keen to stress that these new ventures are not hobbies and the tech firm had serious ambitions to succeed in these new markets. The Q3 report should provide some early indicators.

Finally, we’ll also be looking for any insight into how Apple thinks the ongoing trade war with China will pan out. Cook had been more positive in Q2, but the White House has insisted that there will be no tariff relief for Apple products made in China. And, the third quarter report could include scope for further acquisitions, if the recent Intel deal is anything to go by.

In terms of estimates, Wilson said: “Consensus estimates forecast revenues to remain flat year-on-year in Q3 at $53.4bn, with EPS seen at $2.10 against $2.34 a year before.”

A closer look at share price

The profits warning at the start of the year saw Apple shares take a hammering, but shares have rallied close to 50% since then.

“Breakout to $211 and beyond? Bulls looking for a break north of $211 but this could offer resistance. Sustained rally beyond $211 starts to bring all-time highs in view again. If there’s disappointment, the support trend line comes in around $185.”

Key financials

On our platform, you can see the key financials for Apple ahead of the earnings report.

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