Apple’s quarter: Something for bears and bulls alike

Apple's March quarter: Something for bears and bulls alike

Apple’s second quarter wasn’t nearly as bad as the bears on Wall Street thought it would be. In fact, the company actually beat estimates, even though there were some notably bearish analysts and traders on Wall Street. Despite that, Apple’s results, guidance and future are as confusing as ever, with something for both the bulls and bears alike.

Here are three things Apple bulls have to be happy about in the report:

Earnings Beat

Second-quarter results weren’t as bad as feared, as Apple earned $10.09 per share on $43.6 billion in sales. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected $10.01 per share and $42.31 billion in revenue. Revenue grew 18% year-over-year, which is pretty healthy for a company many seemingly pegged as being on its death-bed, but earnings fell 18% year-over-year.

Apple had an incredibly successful fiscal 2012, setting a stage that was nearly impossible to outdo. Apple has annual revenues approaching $200 billion, and for the company to generate 18% revenue growth is extremely impressive, especially when you take into account the law of large numbers.

New Products

In addition to the earnings beat, Apple CEO Tim Cook hinted that innovation is alive and well at Apple in his prepared remarks. “We are participating in large and growing markets we see great opportunities in front of us particularly given the long-term prospects of the smartphone and tablet market the strength of our incredible ecosystem which we planned to continue to augment with new services our plans expanded distribution and the potential exciting new product categories,” Cook said on the call.

This suggests that the rumors about an iWatch, iTV or other iDevices may indeed be true. If Cook was just referencing updated versions of the iPhone and iPad, the words “product categories” would not have been tossed out.

Cook also made mention of not just new hardware, but new software and services as well. Apple has lacked in software and services, especially on its own apps. Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS, is incredibly easy to use and aesthetically pleasing, but services such as Apple Maps, iCloud and others have lagged behind competitors, such as Google.

Cook is trying to change the way Apple is viewed to more than just a hardware company, telling Goldman Sachs analyst Bill Shope the company is “really confident about our product pipeline in both hardware, software and also our services.”

Huge Cash Return

Aside from new products and new product categories, Apple showed it was more than serious about returning excess cash to shareholders. The company increased its share repurchase program to $60 billion, from the current $10 billion. Combined with an increased quarterly dividend of $3.05 per share, Apple is going to return $100 billion in cash to shareholders over the next three years.

The company accessed the debt markets to do so, signifying it is not adverse to debt, as Greenlight Capital’s David Einhorn suggested. Apple is serious about returning cash to shareholders, while maintaining a cash balance that is more than adequate to invest in research and development, capital expenditures and run the business.

Here are three things Apple bears have to be happy about in the report:

Guidance

The fear on Apple was that the guidance for the June quarter would disappoint, and boy did it ever. For the fiscal third-quarter, Apple expects revenue will be between $33.5 billion and $35.5 billion, with gross margins between 36% and 37%. Analysts were expecting $38.2 billion in sales.

That’s a stark contrast in what Wall Street is expecting, and what Apple is expecting. Apple is likely not going to refresh its product lineup until the fall of 2013, making fears about the fiscal third and fourth quarters exacerbate from current levels.

Gross Margins

Gross margins fell to 37.5% in the second quarter, down from an abnormally high 47.4% in the year ago quarter. While the 990 basis point was extreme, it was inline with what Apple forecast last quarter. However, gross margins are expected to continue to decline, as the iPad mini continues to sell more units than the iPad, weighing on Apple’s overall margins.

Apple makes incredible products, but customers are showing there’s little reason to buy the more expensive 9.7-inch iPad when the 7.9-inch iPad mini does the trick, at a much lower cost.

Product Delays?

Cook hinted Apple is looking at new product categories, as well as refreshing its existing lineup. However, he said new products would be coming in the fall and 2014. Many on Wall Street were expecting a summer refresh to the iPhone, so this could put a crimp in earnings estimates once again.

In 2012, Apple refreshed nearly its entire product portfolio in September and October, and the concern could be that Apple is doing the same thing again in 2013. Taking a more staggered approach would allow Apple to smooth out its fiscal quarters. With the current approach, Apple is increasingly becoming a seasonal company, with the importance placed on the holiday shopping season.

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