Apple stock rallies over upbeat forecast, record-setting stock buyback - Hindustan Times
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Apple stock rallies over upbeat forecast, record-setting stock buyback

Bloomberg |
May 03, 2024 08:24 AM IST

Apple shares gained as much as 7.9% in extended trading Thursday after the report was released. Apple had been down 10% to $173.03 this year through the close.

Apple Inc. shares jumped in late trading after the company posted stronger-than-expected sales last quarter and predicted a return to growth in the current period, sparking optimism that a slowdown is easing.

The Apple logo is shown atop an Apple store at a shopping mall in La Jolla, California, US.(Reuters)
The Apple logo is shown atop an Apple store at a shopping mall in La Jolla, California, US.(Reuters)

Though revenue fell 4.3% to $90.8 billion in the March quarter, that was better than the $90.3 billion predicted by analysts. Profit also topped Wall Street projections in the period, and Apple announced the biggest stock buyback in US history.

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The results came as a relief to investors, who have been waiting for the iPhone maker to pull out of a long slump. Apple has posted sales declines in five of the past six quarters, hurt by a sluggish smartphone market and headwinds in China. The company had warned analysts in February that revenue in the latest period would be down about 5% from a year earlier.

In the current period, Apple expects sales to climb by a percentage in the low single digits. The company predicted that both its iPad and services business would grow by a rate in the double digits, but declined to give a forecast for the iPhone — its flagship product.

The shares gained as much as 7.9% in extended trading Thursday after the report was released. Apple had been down 10% to $173.03 this year through the close.

Earnings amounted to $1.53 a share in the fiscal second quarter, which ended March 30. That exceeded the $1.50 analysts had estimated. Apple increased its dividend 4% to 25 cents a share, in line with expectations. And the board approved plans to buy back an additional $110 billion of the company’s stock.

A lack of innovative new devices has contributed to slow sales at Apple, but the company looks to begin rectifying that on May 7. That’s when it plans to unveil new iPads — the first updates to its tablet line in 1 1/2 years.

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The Cupertino, California-based company also is planning a long-awaited push into generative artificial intelligence. In June, Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook is expected to lay out Apple’s AI strategy at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference.

“We are making significant investments in the space,” Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri told Bloomberg Television’s Emily Chang. “We believe we are well-positioned.”

Cook said Thursday that Apple will stand out from its AI rivals by tightly integrating hardware and software, using in-house chips, and making privacy and security a priority.

Apple’s slowdown in China has been of particular concern to investors in recent months. Consumers there are flocking to homegrown smartphone brands, and the government has banned the use of foreign technology in some offices.

Counterpoint Research estimated that sales of the iPhone nosedived 19% in China during the first three months of the year, the product’s worst quarter since 2020. Worldwide, shipments of the device fell nearly 10% in the quarter, according to IDC, marking the steepest drop since Covid lockdowns snarled supply chains in 2022.

Against that backdrop, Apple’s China results were more upbeat than expected. The company generated $16.4 billion in revenue from greater China last quarter. Though that number was down from a year earlier, it handily beat the $15.9 billion analysts had predicted.

Read More: Apple’s China iPhone Sales Dive 19% in Worst Quarter Since 2020

Maestri said that the China concerns were overblown. “We were happy with our results in China,” he said. “The reality is different from maybe what you read at times.”

Cook also pushed back on the idea that the iPhone was suffering in the country, saying that revenue from the device actually grew in mainland China. The weakness stemmed from other parts of the business, he said.

“Other products didn’t fare as well,” he said on a conference call. “And so we clearly have work there to do.”

At the same time, Apple hasn’t shown that new product categories can reinvigorate growth. It canceled work on a self-driving car in February, eliminating a project that some had hoped could become one of its famous “next big things.”

The company did push into the mixed-reality headset market this year, with the Feb. 2 debut of the Vision Pro. But that product is off to a slow start and could take years before it adds meaningfully to Apple’s revenue. Apple didn’t disclose Vision Pro sales figures on Thursday, but said that the device is generating interest among corporate customers.

The company’s biggest moneymaker remains the iPhone, which accounts for about half of sales. The product generated revenue of $46 billion in the second quarter, topping estimates of $45.8 billion. That was a sharp decline from the $51.3 billion Apple reported in the year-ago quarter — despite the fact that the latest model was considered to be a substantial upgrade.

Apple is planning to upgrade the iPhone this year with slightly bigger screens and new chips focused on AI. The Pro models also will add a new button for capturing photo and video, but they’ll otherwise look the same as current versions.

The iPad business continued its decline last quarter, with revenue coming in at $5.56 billion. That missed the average analyst estimate of $5.91 billion. For the first time in the product’s history, Apple went an entire calendar year without upgrading the iPad’s hardware. The device will fare better in the current quarter, with pent-up demand helping fuel sales of the models set to be unveiled next week.

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The Mac generated $7.45 billion in sales, beating the $6.79 billion projection. The business got a boost from the new MacBook Air, which was updated in March with an M3 chip. Apple is planning to release its first Macs with M4 processors later this year, adding a fresh focus on AI capabilities, Bloomberg News has reported.

Apple’s Wearables, Home and Accessories segment brought in $7.91 billion revenue. That compares with estimates of $8.29 billion and represents a nearly 10% decline from the year-ago quarter. The latest Apple Watch models were only minor upgrades, and the company hasn’t resolved litigation surrounding a disabled feature for calculating blood-oxygen saturation.

Services were a relative bright spot, growing 14% to $23.9 billion in revenue. That topped Wall Street expectations of $23.3 billion. The category includes Apple Music, the TV streaming platform and iCloud subscriptions, but its revenue primarily comes from the App Store.

That business is under pressure from regulators, with Apple being forced to allow third-party marketplaces and payment services in the European Union. Depending on how Apple fares in a legal battle with the Justice Department, it may have to make changes in the US as well.

During the call, Apple executives touted the company’s growth in emerging markets. That includes an all-time revenue record in Indonesia, where Cook visited last month during a tour of Southeast Asia.

“These are markets where our market share is low,” Cook said. “The populations are large and growing. And our products are really making a lot of progress.”

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