Despite strength, Apple earnings miss the mark

Fueled by strong sales of the iPhone, Apple reports revenues of $28.27 billion but misses Wall Street analysts' expectations.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
6 min read
Apple earnings

Despite a strong close, Apple's final fiscal quarter of 2011 missed Wall Street's expectations.

Apple reported revenue of $28.27 billion and profits of $6.62 billion, or $7.02 per share, for the quarter ended September 24. That was up from $20.34 billion, or $4.64 per share, the company saw at the same time last year.

The performance fell 27 cents per share below the average estimate among analysts surveyed by Thompson Financial, a rare miss for Apple, which had gone on an expectation-blowing streak in recent quarters. Nonetheless, Apple handily topped its own forecast, which called for earnings of $5.50 a share on revenue of $25 billion.

The company posted a gross profit margin of 40.3 percent, up 3.4 percent from the same quarter last year.

Shares of Apple's stock plunged just minutes after the earnings release, dropping 7 percent in after-hours trading. At last check, Apple shares were trading at $394.81, down $27.43, or 6.5 percent.

Apple, which is based in Cupertino, Calif., expects revenue of $37 billion and projected earnings of $9.30 per share, 32 cents above analyst expectations, for the current quarter, which it noted runs 14 weeks instead of 13.

"We are thrilled with the very strong finish of an outstanding fiscal 2011, growing annual revenue to $108 billion and growing earnings to $26 billion," Tim Cook, Apple's CEO, said in a statement.

Leading the way once again, in terms of overall unit sales, was the iPhone, which is now offered in 130 countries by a total of 230 carriers. Apple said it sold 17.07 million handsets during the quarter, 21 percent more than the same quarter last year but less than during the previous quarter, which saw Apple selling 20.34 million iPhones. That decrease is of special note, as customers could have been holding back on making a purchase, given expectations of the company releasing a new model, which it did last Friday, releasing the iPhone 4S. Apple Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer alluded to as much during the earnings call, saying rumors had led to a stagnation in sales prior to the 4S release.

"In our wildest dreams, we couldn't have gotten off to a better start than we have with the 4S," Cook said. "We've sold over 4 million in just 3 days. We're thrilled with the start that we've had. We're confident we'll have a large supply, but I don't want to predict when supply and demand will balance, because demand is obviously extremely high right now. I'm confident we'll set an all-time record for iPhone this quarter."

Apple's saw its biggest quarter's worth of iPad sales yet, with the company selling 11.12 million units, a 166 percent increase from the same quarter last year. The iPad accounted for $6.9 billion of Apple's revenues during the quarter, compared to $2.8 billion during the same quarter last year. That's a 146 percent increase.

"We thought from the beginning of this [that tablets] would be a huge market," Cook said during the analyst call. "And it has been even greater than we thought, and we've now sold 40 million [iPads] on a cumulative basis, and it's pretty clear to me that if you forecast out in time, the tablet market...will be larger than the PC market. That's not a guidance number; that's just something I very much believe. There will be many, many more people who can access it, and the ease of use is so phenomenal and off-the-charts that I believe it's a huge opportunity for Apple across time."

Another bright spot in Apple's quarter were Mac sales, which came in at 4.89 million units, topping what most analysts were expecting. Mac sales were of special interest to Wall Street, given that they came in below estimates in the previous quarter, despite increasing by 14 percent year over year. During the quarter, Apple released a new version of Mac OS X software, of which it has sold more than 6 million copies, along with updated models of the MacBook Air and Mac Mini.

Continuing its decline was Apple's iPod, of which 6.62 million units were sold, a 27 percent drop from the same quarter last year, though sales of the music player exceeded company expectations. That product has its tenth anniversary this coming Sunday. Apple skipped its usual iPod-focused event this year, choosing to debut the iPhone 4S instead. At the same event, the company announced a white model of the iPod Touch and lower pricing for models in its iPod Touch and Nano lines, but it did not offer any new hardware adjustments.

On the retail front, Apple opened 30 new stores during the quarter, 21 of which were outside the United States. It now has 357 stores worldwide, and they drew a cumulative 77.5 million visitors during the quarter.

Apple ended the quarter with more than $80 billion in cash. During the company's conference call, Cook said the cash isn't "burning a hole in our pocket," as it continues to reinvest. Such investments include acquisitions of such technologies as Siri, which Apple bought last year and turned into an iPhone 4S feature; investments in intellectual property, including Apple's spending on the Nortel patents; and spending on the company's retail stores.

For the full 2011 fiscal year, Apple said it drew $108 billion in revenue, 66 percent over fiscal 2010 revenue. It sold 72 million iPhones, 32 million iPads, and 17 million Macs. It opened a total of 40 retail stores, three-fourths of which were outside the United States, and it counted $26 billion in net income, up 88 percent year over year. The company plans to expand or replace higher-volume stores in the U.S. that are too constrained, Cook said.

Building on its growth in Greater China, Apple attributed 16 percent of its quarterly revenue to the region, which works out to $4.5 billion. To put that in perspective, Cook noted during the call that the same region made up just 2 percent of Apple's revenue in 2009, jumping to 12 percent in fiscal year 2011. Cook said Greater China is No. 2 on the list of top revenue-generating regions, behind North America. Current company investments in China include opening more stores.

Trailing China is Brazil. Revenues from the country were up 118 percent year over year, topping $900 million. Cook said Russia and the Middle East look promising, markets in which Apple hasn't historically been strong. He said the iPhone has given Apple a foot in the door there.

On Siri, the new iPhone voice technology, Cook said "the number of people using it is amazing." He shrugged off a question about what the company would be doing with it in the future, including use on other devices.

Regarding Apple's ongoing patent disputes, Cook declined to comment on what the end goal of such litigation is. Bernstein Research analyst Toni Sacconaghi had questioned Cook about the topic, specifically Apple's suits targeting Samsung and other Android device manufacturers.

"I don't want to comment on any particular litigation; it's our policy not to do that," he said. "As you know, we spend a lot of time and money and resources coming up with incredible innovations, and we don't like it when someone else takes those. And so that's--unfortunately--why we've been pushed into the court system as a remedy to that. But I don't want to comment on any particular lawsuit."

Today's earnings announcement is the first for the company since the death of its co-founder and former CEO, Steve Jobs. Cook, who took over the position after Jobs stepped down in August, kicked off the conference call with analysts by saying, "the world has lost a visionary and amazing human being," and that "Steve inspired everyone at Apple to do extraordinary things."

Updated throughout with details from the analyst call.