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Apple's iPad and M1 Mac Sales May Tell Us Whether the Chip Shortage Is Finally Ending

The tech giant is set to release quarterly earnings on Thursday, offering the latest sign of how COVID-19 is impacting tech.

Mac Studio computer
Demand for Apple's latest Mac computers has outpaced supply
Dan Ackerman/CNET

Two years ago, Apple was one of the first companies to warn that the COVID-19 pandemic was impacting global manufacturing. Now the tech giant may offer the first signs that things are improving.

Apple will announce its earnings for its second fiscal quarter after market close Thursday. Usually, Apple executives who discuss the results with analysts on a public conference call like to talk about how popular its products are and how exciting the next ones will be. But over the past year, they've also increasingly warned that they're struggling to build enough iPads and Macs to meet demand, missing out on billions of dollars in potential sales.

Though Apple isn't providing forward-looking guidance during the pandemic, analysts on average expect the company to report $1.43 in profit per share on $93.9 billion in sales for the three months ended in March, according to surveys published by Yahoo Finance. That would amount to a 2% increase in profit per share from the same time a year ago and roughly 4% increase in sales.

Assuming Apple meets or beats those expectations, analysts say it's likely the iPhone and its associated accessories made the biggest difference. And that's even though demand for its Mac computers and iPad tablets has risen to record levels.

"We believe demand for the iPhone 13 held up better than expected through the end of the March quarter," Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty wrote in a note to investors last week. "iPhone data points out of China were notably strong in the face of broader market weakness."

iPad Air 2022

The chip shortage has impacted a lot of companies, ranging from car makers to appliance manufacturers.

Scott Stein/CNET

Whatever Apple says will likely be seen as a bellwether for the tech industry, which has struggled with supply shortages, particularly as demand for computers, tablets and cameras and other technology jumped amid the pandemic.

The ongoing supply shortages have rippled throughout the global economy, slowing production of everything from cars to medical equipment. The constrained supplies have also pushed prices higher, contributing to inflation.

Apple and other tech companies have vowed to increase production in the US to help offset slowdowns in international shipping and manufacturing, but many of those projects are still years from completion. In the meantime, some supplies of chips have improved.

Analysts will likely be listening for any further signs from Apple on Thursday, particularly as the world struggles war started by Russia invading Ukraine. Lockdowns from another wave of rising COVID infections in China have shuttered ports In Shanghai and others cities, further contributing to shipping delays.

Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi said in a note to investors Monday that consumers appear to be slowing their spending binge that was a hallmark of the pandemic. "With slowing growth, high inflation and geopolitical uncertainty tied to the Russia-Ukraine conflict," he wrote, "consumer sentiment appears to be waning."

There are also signs that the manufacturing slowdowns may still impact financial results for the summer, particularly as Evercore ISI analyst Amit Daryanani noted that factories that make about 20% of iPhones were shut down this month amid rising health concerns. "Revenue growth will likely decelerate," he wrote in typical Wall Street lingo on Monday, adding that sales may drop more than even some analysts may be expecting.