1Q15 earnings for Apple (AAPL)

the earnings report

Last night AAPL reported results for 1Q15 (the company’s fiscal year ends in September).  Earnings came in at $18 billion, up 37% year-on-year.  EPS came in at $3.06, a 48% yoy advance (the difference is due to the company’s aggressive stock buyback program, which has shrunk the number of outstanding shares).  These figures were far in excess of the Wall Street consensus, which was centered around eps of $2.60.

This is the first time in at least two years that AAPL has had a positive earnings surprise this large.  The $18 billion also sets a new all-time record for profits by a publicly traded company.  Lots of positive media reports, focusing on the records shattered.

As I’m writing this, the stock is up almost 8% on the news.

the highlights

I hven’t looked carefully at AAPL quarterly earnings for a whole (there’s been no need to).  I’d almost forgotten the teeth-achingly saccharine quality of the Applespeak the company uses in dealing with the investing public.

More substantive thoughts:

–the Steve Jobs era is over  Jobs left the company with powerful earnings momentum, an upscale image, design flair and the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad.   He also left behind some bad stuff–a dogmatic belief in a tablet size that was too big and a smartphone size that was too small.  After struggling for some time, the company has now thrown off both those mistakes.

–the Apple brand/ecosystem has huge power  Pentup demand for a larger smartphone drove iPhone sales in the  holiday quarter to 74.5 million units, a 46% yoy gain.  Inventories fell to unusually low levels during the period, suggesting sales were constrained by AAPL’s manufacturing capability.  (Stocks are now back at normal levels.)

In other words, even though Samsung and other Android suppliers were offering a clearly superior product, Apple users by and large continued to use their dated phones in the hope that the company would finally come to its senses.  Where else would this happen?  AAPL reported that 1Q15 was the highest period ever for Android users switching to the iPhone, suggesting that the small number of prodigal sons/daughters were returning to the fold.

earnings growth will continue strong  Only a small percentage of AAPL  smartphone owners have upgraded to the iPhone 6  …10%? – 15%? of the total.  This seems to me to imply that AAPL’s yoy earnings comparisons will continue to be healthy for at least the next several quarters, despite a lower dollar value of foreign currency sales.

odds and ends

–Computers were strong for AAPL; tablets were weak

–Sales in Greater China were very good

–The strong dollar means currency was a negative factor in the quarter, even though the raw numbers down’t seem to reflect that.  Currency will continue to be a problem.  Curiously, the yen seems to have been more of an issue than the euro (implying that AAPL hasn’t made much penetration into the EU?).  Hedging will temper currency losses for a while, but AAPL, like most companies, gives little detail on the nuts and bolts of its hedging operations.  So it’s very hard to figure currency effects.  AAPL, however, is guiding to a strong yoy earnings gain in 2Q15 despite this.

 

 

earnings calls: Apple (AAPL) vs. Microsoft (MSFT)

Last night after the market close, AAPL reported earnings per share that beat the consensus of Wall Street analysts–and the stock went down in the after-market.  MSFT, in contrast, reported results that fell short of analysts’ estimates–and the stock went up!

What’s going on?

AAPL gave next-quarter guidance that fell below Wall Street’s projection–but it always does this, so that’s not the reason.  MSFT’s income statement looks better after factoring out the large operating loss generated by Nokia, but I don’t think that’s the reason for the market’s positive response, either.  After all, if you wanted to (I didn’t), you could have gotten a reasonable guess at how much Nokia would subtract from the MSFT total from Nokia’s recent results as a stand-alone company.

I think the market’s response is much more a a conceptual response.

Tim Cook has made it clear that AAPL is a manufacturer of high-end mobile consumer technology.  There’s no “next big thing” on the horizon, however, with only a periodic refresh of the company’s smartphone line due any time soon.  If reports from suppliers are accurate, new offerings will include a phone with a large, Samsung Galaxy-matching screen size, and a(n even larger) tablet/phone.  For Jobs-ites, this departure from Steve’s view that phones should be small enough to operate with one hand may be earth-shaking.  But for the rest of the world, this is only catching up to what Samsung already has on the market.  So a ho-hum Wall Street response is appropriate.

For MSFT, on the other hand, the news is relatively better.  The company seems to have a focus for the first time in a long while.  The fact that Nokia is putting up operating losses at a near-$3 billion annual rate seems to me to justify the downsizing MSFT has recently announced.  The only surprise is that this wasn’t started sooner.

Leaving the X-Box content creation business is probably more symbolic than anything else, but it removes a potential distraction–especially given the continual mess the company has typically made of its game software development efforts.

One, admittedly small, figure what caught my eye was that MSFT has added another 1,000,000 individual/small business users to its Office 365 rolls during the June quarter.  I think this just shows the power of the cloud–easier administration, much lower cost-of-goods expense, and hugely better protection against counterfeiting.

For MSFT, then, the earnings were nice, but the fact that the company’s board is allowing significant changes is nicer.  True, the message may turn out only to be that the company will try harder not to shoot itself in the foot again, but even that’s an uptick.  Hence the positive market response.  Absence of missteps won’t be good enough for long, but it’s ok for now.

the Apple – IBM partnership

Jobs 1.0

Back in the early 1980s, AAPL made a better personal computer than IBM, at a time when the PC was beginning to displace the minicomputer in corporations and when individuals were starting to become a viable market for computing power.

Steve Jobs made two strategic errors, however, that ended up preventing AAPL from exploiting its advantage, which ultimately marginalized his company and put it on the verge of bankruptcy.

–AAPL priced its PC at 2x -3x the level of its MS-DOS alternatives, providing an overwhelming economic incentive to put up with the clunkiness of an IMB or a Compaq.

–Jobs marketed solely to company IT departments, which at that time had no power to make purchasing decisions.  He completely ignored the CEOs and COOs who did.  This may have enhanced his counterculture image, but it effectively closed the door to any corporate sales.

Jobs 2.0, Groundhog Day–except better so far

Arguably, Jobs 2.0 repeated the same game plan as 1.0:  make high-end, high-priced consumer devices and ignore the corporate world.  

In the post-Jobs era, and after a whole lot of waffling, AAPL management has decided to stick with Page One of the Steve playbook and is continuing to define itself as a maker of high-end consumer devices.  On the other hand, it lived (by the skin of its teeth) through Jobs 1.0 and knows how that story ended.

That’s why I think AAPL’s just-announced decision to partner with IBM to sell mobile products to corporations is potentially very significant.  It suggests AAPL is no longer willing to be straitjacketed by the Jobs mystique.  This is a good thing, because growth companies only continue to prosper if they periodically reinvent themselves.  

Also, given the continuing ineptitude of Ballmer-led Microsoft, the corporate market is much more wide open to AAPL smartphones and tablets than AAPL had any right to expect.  

I’m not rushing out to buy AAPL on the strength of a single new venture.  But it’s a start.  It suggests that Tim Cook is doing more than rearranging the deck chairs.  It argues that we should also be on the alert for further signals of favorable change in the company’s strategy.

 

 

 

 

 

my take on Apple (AAPL)

In a comment on yesterday’s post, my friend Bruce asked for my take on AAPL. That’s my subject today.

The stock looks cheap to me.  Investors have had two big worries, I think.  One has been lack of recent earnings growth.  The other is the perception that the post-Jobs management of AAPL is completely at sea, cowed by the memory of Jobs and therefore unable to make decisions– as well as completely uninterested in whether the stock goes up or down.

However,

–growth appears to be resuming.  Yes, modest growth, but Wall Street has understood for years that the heady days of the last decade are gone forever.

–AAPL has a stellar brand name and many rabid fans.  New products may re-energize them.

–the recent announcement of a 7-for-1 split offers the hope that management is more the simply caretaker of the Steve Jobs museum.

–in addition, conditions are right for investors to look at AAPL again.  I think 2014 is going to be a sideways year from here for the US stock market.  So a big, low-multiple, cash generative company where earnings growth is resuming and where management practices may be taking a turn for the better has a great chance to be an outperformer.  A 2.3% dividend yield doesn’t hurt, either.

To me, AAPL feels like the MSFT story, only in an earlier chapter.  MSFT has a stronger business.  But Tim Cook arguably has greater freedom to act, since he’s dealing only with the legend of Steve Jobs and not the physical presence of Steve Ballmer.  (Also, to give him credit, Cook has already fixed one of SJ’s mistaken pronouncements–that 10″ is the only tablet size anyone will/should want.  He appears to be in the process of fixing another, similar one–that the original iPhone screen size is the only choice anyone will want/need.)

Personally, I prefer MSFT.  But that may be because AAPL has historically been so uncommunicative that it’s hard to figure out what’s going on inside management’s heads.  In the strange way investors think, my attitude is arguably an investment plus for AAPL.  Better communication from AAPL would come as a positive surprise to Wall Street–and by itself result in a higher stock price.

 

 

 

 

Apple (AAPL) is splitting its stock, 7 for 1

AAPL’s 2Q14 earnings report last night was full of mostly positive surprises:

–earnings per share came in at $11.62.  That’s about 15% more than the Wall Street analyst consensus had expected, and higher, by about the same amount, than results in the same quarter a year ago.  It’s the largest margin AAPL has beaten the consensus by in years.

–the company is raising its dividend and increased its proposed share buyback amount by $30 billion

–AAPL is going to split its stock by 7 to 1.

Of these developments, I think the most important is the stock split.

stock splits

Academics will tell you two things about stock splits:

1.  Stock splits have no direct economic significance.  Its’ simply paper shuffling.  Instead of having one share that trades at, say, $560 you’ll soon have seven shares, each trading at $80.

2.  The stocks of companies that have stock splits tend to underperform for a period after the split occurs.

 

The second comment, while true, is, well, silly.  All the outperformance comes between the period when the stock split is anticipated by the stock market or actually announced and the date when the split takes place.

The first is also true–particularly in the United States (but not in many foreign markets).  But this doesn’t mean that the AAPL split has no relevance.

(See my post on stock splits for more details.)

Two reasons:

–stocks with very high per share prices tend to underperform.  Why?  I don’t know.  I think it’s because retail investors prefer to buy stock in round” lots (usually 100 shares).  This may be an echo from the days a half-century ago when trading costs were very high and when the commission for an “odd” lot (anything that isn’t a round lot) was particularly expensive.  For AAPL, this would be a commitment of over $50,000–too rich for a single position for most people.

Yes, it makes no sense.  But, whatever the reason, retail investors like stock splits and respond positively to them.

–more important, studied management contempt for shareholders, who after all are the owners of the company, has long been a key feature of the AAPL persona.  It’s part of the Steve Jobs legacy.  But it’s not a good one.  To me the stock split is a sign that the current management finally realizes how poisonous the Just-Like-Steve mentality has been and is beginning to shake off its shackles.

I don’t think this means AAPL returns to the super growth of its past.  On the other hand, I do think that, if I’m right about the attitude change, that the JLS discount multiple Wall Street now applies to AAPL stock will gradually disappear.  Just achieving a market multiple would imply a 30% gain in the stock.