AAPL’s awesome 1Q12

the report

After the close of New York trading on Tuesday January 24th, AAPL announced results for 1Q12 (AAPL’s fiscal year ends in October).

The company reported its best single quarter ever, with diluted earnings per share of $13.87 on revenue of $46.3 billion.  Sales were up by 73% year on year for the three months; eps were up by 116%.  Wall Street analysts had been anticipating earnings of $10.16 per share.  AAPL not only handily beat that figure, but also blew through the high end of the estimate range at $11.26.

Management’s (notoriously lowball) guidance for 2Q12 is for revenue of $32.5 billion and per-share profits of $8.50.

AAPL shares rose by 6.3% in the Wednesday market.  On the surface at least, this strikes me as a tepid response to the numbers.  More on this topic below.

the details

quibbles first…

–AAPL is another one of those companies that uses the week rather than the month as their basic unit of time.  This creates a problem, because a year is equal to 52 weeks plus one day for regular years, plus two days for leap year.  So companies like AAPL have to throw in an occasional quarter that has an “extra” week in it to keep their reporting year and the calendar in sync.

1Q12 was one of those adjustment quarters.  Not only that, but the extra week was the high-volume sales period between Christmas and New Year’s Day.  So AAPL’s sales for the three months were likely 10% or so higher than they would ordinarily have been.

–the introduction of the iPhone4S shifted revenue out of 4Q11 and into 1Q12, because AAPL ran down inventories of its older phones and consumers deferred iPhone purchases until the new model became available.

–don’t make the same mistake I’ve heard from Bloomberg radio commentators of saying that this quarter’s earnings were more than AAPL made in a whole year not that long ago.  This sentiment is correct, but the comparison isn’t.  AAPL changed its accounting treatment for iPhone sales a couple of years ago to recognizing all the profits from a sale (markup on the device + a share of revenue collected by the telecom company over the life of a contract) up front, rather than recognize them gradually over the (usually two-year) contract term.

…followed by stunning numbers (ex the iPod)

iPhone

In 1Q12 AAPL sold 37 million iPhones, with iPhone4S leading the way.  That’s up 126% yoy, in a market that expanded by 40% over that time.  It’s also 17 million more than AAPL’s previous record for a quarter.   Sales would have been even higher except AAPL ran out of phones to sell in key areas.

iPhone 4S wasn’t available in China during 1Q12.  It went on sale there earlier in the month.  Demand has been “staggering.”

iPad

APPL sold 15.4 million iPads during the quarter, up 111% year on year.  According to CEO Tim Cook, the launch of AMZN’s new Kindle lines has had no effect, good or bad, on sales.

Macs

AAPL sold 1.48 million iMacs and 3.72 million laptops, both records, during the quarter.  Desktops were up 21% in units yoy; laptops were up 28%.  Industry growth was zero.

iPods

This declining category of devices was up 133% quarter on quarter for AAPL, but down 21% yoy.  iPod Touch remains the lion’s share of sales.  APPL retains a 70% share of the MP3 player market in the US and is the top-seller in most other markets (not that any investor is going to buy AAPL’s stock because of the iPod anymore).

other stuff

Sales at the Apple Stores, which make up almost a third of retail revenue for AAPL, were $6.1 billion during the quarter.  Average revenue per store was $1.7 million, up 43% yoy.

The iTunes store took in $1.7 billion.

Weak worldwide demand for tech components gave AAPL a lot of buying clout for NAND flash and DRAM during 1Q12.  As a result, the company’s gross margin was unusually high at 44.7%.  To give a basis for comparison, full-year 2011 gm came in at 40.5%.  This favorable development probably also boosted net income by 10%.

AAPL has $97.6 billion in cash on the balance sheet.  Of that, $64 billion is being held offshore.

the stock

Trying to “normalize” 1Q12 eps by correcting for the extra week and the elevated gross margins, I come up with a figure of $11.50 or so for the quarter.  If I had to guess, I’d peg full-year eps at least $40, even after a downward adjustment of 1Q12 results–meaning reported figures could be closer to $45 a share.

If I’m correct, AAPL shares are currently trading at, at most, 11x this year’s earnings, with 40%+ earnings growth in prospect.  That strikes me as really cheap.  Subtract AAPL’s cash from the equation and the forward multiple is 8.5x.

In contrast, WMT, which has nothing like the recent growth record or current prospects of AAPL, is trading at about 12x.

COH, a global semi-luxury company, whose stock has paralleled AAPL over the past year, and which has far better growth characteristics than WMT, trades at almost double the PE of AAPL.  But even COH probably won’t grow as fast as AAPL this year.

Why the low valuation for AAPL?

I think Wall Street views AAPL as a firm built at present on a single product, smartphones.  It perceives the global transition from feature phones to smartphones, which is at least part of what’s driving the company’s extraordinary growth, to be mostly played out.  Therefore, investors theorize, AAPL will sooner or later–and probably sooner–be reduced to depending on replacement demand.  When that happens, its earnings growth will shift into a much lower gear.

There’s some truth to this idea.  Look at the breakout of AAPL’s revenues during the current quarter:

iPhone     53% of sales

iPad     20%

Macs     14%

iPods     6%

Music services     4%

Other stuff     3%

Total = $46.3 billion.

After iPhone and iPad, nothing else moves the needle that much.  A half-decade ago, the iPod doubled the size of AAPL; the iPhone then doubled (a much larger) AAPL again.  Can iPad perform the same trick for AAPL a third time?  Eventually, maybe, as part of a transformation of the personal computer market over the next decade.  But I’m not sure many people would like to bet on that.

And, of course, NOK and RIMM are reminders of how fast the tech world can change.

Potential pitfalls may be Wall Street’s current focus, but it’s by no means the whole AAPL story.

As I’ve been writing for some time, AAPL shares have suffered immense PE contraction over the last four or five years, both in absolute terms and relative to the market.  According to Value Line, AAPL traded at a 40% premium to the market multiple in 2007 and a 60% premium in 2008.  By my reckoning, AAPL is now selling at a 25% discount to the market–a much lower level than firms (like WMT) with weaker business models and balance sheets.

That’s actually the good news.  The fact that a huge amount of potential future bad news seems to me to be already baked into the stock price is a powerful argument for owning the stock.  In fact, I think the market is discounting a far worse future for AAPL than is likely to develop.

Can AAPL do anything to help its own cause?  The company could begin to pay a dividend or split the stock.  Either would give the shares a short-term boost.  In the final analysis, however, all AAPL can really do is continue to post strong earnings to show that Wall Street fears are overblown.

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