21 April, 2010

Sales Momentum ramps for Apple as iPhone powers earnings

Apple (AAPL) sells a couple products that it labels with the term 'magic', its multi-touch mouse and new iPad Tablet, but after the company's March quarterly earnings, reported Tuesday after the market close, sales of Apples seem out of a fairy tale.

Analysts Wednesday morning have been pushing over themselves digesting the news and raising price targets further. RBC now joins the highest estimate on Wall Street with its brand new price target of $350 for the Cupertino electronics company. Several other firms including Piper Jaffray, Oppenheimer and J.P. Morgan pushed through or moved higher than $300 as well. And after dissecting Apple's report there are many compelling reasons why.

First though, what about the quarter? Well let's recap expectations coming in and see just how handily Apple beat them.

Financial Metrics
exp. $12.06 Billion in Revenue <-> $13.5 Billion in Revenue
exp. $2.45/share in Earnings <-> $3.33/share in Earnings ($3.07 Billion in Profits)

Unit Metrics
exp. 2.7 Million Macs <-> 2.94 Million Macs
exp. 6.8 Million iPhones <-> 8.75 Million iPhones
exp. 9.0 Million iPods <-> 10.89 Million iPods

An astounding financial performance by any measure expected by Wall Street professionals. Apple's sales momentum is at an all time high and the product mix the company has to offer is striking the right chord with consumers even during a time when retail spending hasn't fully begun its recovery, due to continued high unemployment and the global economy's sputtering into growth.

The real story here is the strength of the iPhone. With the AppStore under its wing, the massively popular platform continues to grow in International and Domestic markets. Growth numbers are almost double overseas for Apple as it continues to add more carrier partners and branches into business models that include multiple-carriers in the same country, something it has yet to do in its home market, the United States. The upside surprise on iPhone sales, given its $600 Average Selling Price accounted for the vast majority of the $1.5 Billion in Revenue that Apple over-achieved this quarter.

But just to get back to the numbers, beating the street is one thing, but crushing expectations to this magnitude is quite another. Apple's own guidance is always conservative to the point where one wonders when they will stop giving any at all. For the concluded quarter Apple brass presented the street with ranges of $11 to $11.4 Billion in Revenue and $2.06 to $2.18 in EPS. The street's expectations were
5-9% higher on Revenue and 12-19% higher on EPS, so it's not as if Wall Street is just marching to Apple's expectations drum. The company however, does very well in controlling and managing expectations, it does well in controlling just about everything it can, well except for the massive leak of the next generation iPhone that was widely reported on gadget blogs and Apple faithful websites.

The fact that Apple beat the street's already higher estimates by 12% on Revenue and 36% on EPS is the kind of operational performance that makes the company among the most admired in the world, and leads to the collective fawning markets are seeing this morning with Upgrades and Price Target hikes. Of course Long Investors are just as thrilled about the 6% move in the stock to an all time high near $260.

The first 6 months of a new year are typically seen as 'seasonal' by the industry but the only thing seasonal now is the collective scrambling of Wall Street's major analysts in their re-writing of the rules of the road for Apple future estimates and valuations. In the press release, CEO Steve Jobs touted having several more extraordinary products in the pipeline for this year and so far the smart money's on the cats-out-of-the-bag 4th Generation iPhone. The company also has previewed its next iPhone Operating System, improved its high selling MacBook Pro line of laptops and is likely nearing the 1 Million in sales mark for its iPad device after just going on sale mere weeks ago. The upcoming quarter includes the launch of the iPad with 3G networking, the International launch of the iPad and likely invitations for the next iPhone announcement, expected in June.

Apple continues to be a must own Technology stock and one that is running with a Sales and Product tailwind unlike any in its history. But with all the love, who's left to buy it? With quarterly performances like this one, somehow, somewhere, investors will continue to be found.

Disclosure: Author is long AAPL

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