Apple earnings should quell antenna debacle

Any lingering Wall Street concerns over the antenna issue should be mollified by what is expected to be another good quarter.

Steve Jobs at WWDC 2010.
Steve Jobs at WWDC 2010. James Martin/CNET

Apple CEO Steve Jobs said Friday he has no intention of apologizing to investors for the stock drop resulting from "Antennagate." After Apple's third-quarter earnings are reported Tuesday afternoon, it's likely he won't need to.

Apple is expected to again report results that will please investors. Wall Street is expecting between $13.82 billion and $15.74 billion in revenue, and earnings between $2.65 and $3.74 per share. Apple has offered a typically conservative forecast: third-quarter 2010 revenues between $13 billion and $13.4 billion, and earnings per share between $2.28 and $2.39.

Apple on Tuesday will surely be trumpeting the high demand for the iPhone 4 (it's still out of stock in many stores) and the continued expansion of the iPad in new markets ( nine more countries this Friday ). Apple said at a special press conference to address antenna issues last week it has sold "well over 3 million" iPhone 4s since its release in late June.

That's despite a well-publicized tendency for some iPhones to drop or have a weakened signal when gripped in a way that blocks its antenna. Jobs was visibly annoyed Friday at having to clear the air about what was dubbed "Antennagate," but it was a wise move if he was trying to keep talk of the antenna from dominating what's expected to be another good earnings report.

The solution-- giving away free bumper cases to iPhone 4 buyers --was fairly well received, but it will cost Apple to do that, and exactly how much will interest investors. Jobs said Friday that would be addressed during Tuesday's earnings call.

Analysts have been offering their estimates of Apple's cost for the fix, which range from Piper Jaffray's calculation of $178.5 million (36 million cases at $5 each) to Bernstein Research's guess of cases costing $2 each to reach for an overall impact of 2 cents per share during Apple's fourth-quarter earnings later this year.

Apple will probably spend as little time as possible discussing that. Instead, the company will want to focus on the positives: iPad sales and iPhone 4 demand. While the iPhone 4 has been a blockbuster, only the first three days' sales of 1.7 million will count toward the fiscal quarter, which ended on June 27. We'll also hear about the impact of the MacBook update from mid-May and perhaps the new Mac Mini's results. And Apple is always happy to talk about iTunes Store receipts and iOS app sales.

Though Apple won't mention it, there is the slight possibility of Apple passing another historic milestone with the most recent quarter. Two months ago, Apple surpassed Microsoft to become the world's most valuable technology company. But now there's talk that Apple could finally pass Microsoft in revenue, something that was almost unthinkable when Jobs returned to Apple 13 years ago. At that point, the company he founded was "90 days from bankruptcy," something he revealed at a rare public interview last month.

As Fortune points out, Microsoft is forecasting $15.26 billion in revenue when it reports earnings on Thursday. Apple is always conservative, but some investors think it could report as high as $15.15 billion. Coupled with Apple's tendency to exceed earnings expectations, it's possible it could overtake Microsoft as early as this quarter.

While Apple tends not to discuss competitors at all, Jobs did so at last Friday's iPhone antenna event and has taken heat for it. That means there are likely to be questions from investors on Tuesday. Expect Apple to continue to defend its antenna research on the iPhone and competitors' devices, even as its has been slammed by the likes of HTC, RIM, and Nokia for trying to paint other smartphones with the same problem some Apple customers have been having with the iPhone 4.

 

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