After opening the quarterly financial conference call with a memorial statement about the passing of Steve Jobs, Apple CEO Tim Cook turned the floor over to CFO Peter Oppenheimer, who announced the by-now-typical excellent financial results for the fourth quarter of 2011:
- $28.27 billion in revenue (last year was $20.34 billion)
- $6.62 billion in net income (last year was $4.31 billion)
- $7.05 per share profits (last year was $4.64)
- 40.3 percent gross margin (last year was 36.9 percent)
Apple’s guidance for the quarter was $5.50 per share in profits, but analysts had predicted $7.31 per share, which led to an after-hours drop in Apple’s stock price: It closed the day at over $422 per share, but dropped below $400 per share after the market closed and the financial results began to filter out.
As for individual product categories, it turned out that Macs had their best quarter ever: 4.89 million Macs were sold, representing a 26 percent increase over last year’s sales numbers. The biggest area of Mac sales growth was in the Asia-Pacific region, where sales of Macs increased by a whopping 61 percent. Mac sales were led by MacBook Air and MacBook Pro sales with 74 percent of total Macs sold; the sales of desktop Macs, led by the iMac, were surprisingly strong. Mac OS X Lion contributed to the party, with over 6 million downloads during the September quarter.
iPhone sales were high as well, even if not matching the rosiest analyst estimates: 17.07 million of the pocketable devices were sold, exceeding by more than one-fifth the number sold in the same quarter last year. iPhone sales in the increasingly important Asia-Pacific market doubled over the sales a year ago. Nonetheless, analysts had expected as many as 22 million iPhones to be sold. Oppenheimer admitted that rumors concerning the now-released iPhone 4S, along with a decision not to add additional carriers internationally until the iPhone 4S release in October, resulted in a decline in iPhone sales volume near the end of the quarter: not as much as Apple had anticipated, even if it was a much higher a drop than some analysts had guessed. Recognized revenue from iPhone sales came in at roughly $11 billion compared to $8.8 billion last year.
As expected, given the saturation of the music player market, iPods saw a 27 percent sales decline from last year, but still managed to rack up 6.62 million units sold compared to 9.1 million sold during the same quarter last year. iPod touch sales accounted for over half of iPods sold. Oppenheimer noted that these numbers exceeded the company’s expectations, and he said that iPod still held a more than 70 percent share of the music player market.
Apple “continues to be thrilled” by the iPad’s sales momentum, with a record-breaking 11.1 million of the shiny slabs sold last quarter, compared to 4.2 million sold during the same quarter last year. Those keeping score will note that’s an increase of 166 percent. The iPad and iPad accessories brought in $6.9 billion compared to last year’s $2.8 billion in quarterly revenues. The iPad, it was noted, is currently available in 90 countries.
The iTunes Store itself generated record revenues of almost $1.5 billion. According to Oppenheimer, customers have downloaded more than 16 billion songs to date, 650 million TV shows, and 180 million books from the iBookstore.
Oppenheimer concluded with a yearly summary: 72 million iPhones were sold in fiscal 2011, 32 million iPads, and about 17 million Macs. 40 new Apple stores were opened during the year as well, and the company generated $26 billion in net income (an 85 percent increase year over year).
Ground by the Rumor Mill -- Rumors of upcoming Apple products are a pervasive aspect of every big launch, but Apple usually doesn’t acknowledge them on its earnings calls, preferring to stick to its own communications. In the question-and-answer session of the call, however, iPhone rumors cropped up more often than speculative iPhone case designs appear online.
When asked why Apple deferred adding new carriers (such as Sprint) or countries until the next financial quarter, which led to a drop in iPhone 4 sales at the end of the quarter, Peter Oppenheimer mentioned that Apple wanted to time everything with the October release of the iPhone 4S, “and we wanted to launch them with our latest product.” But he then added that the biggest impact was the very “pervasive” rumors.
Later, when asked to speculate on how many purchases were deferred, Tim Cook pulled out a favorite expression. “You can’t run the experiment twice,” he said. “We can’t tell you with precision how many units we would have sold if there had not been rumors and people weren’t expecting a new iPhone. But I certainly believe it was substantial, and that’s the reason that we called it out. And I think anyone monitoring the press would probably come to the same conclusion.”
With millions of iPhone 4s still sold during the same time frame, rumors aren’t significantly threatening Apple. But the rumor mill is something that’s definitely on the company’s — and its executives’ — radar.
The Continued Importance of Apple Retail Stores -- Apple’s successful retail experiment, launched at a time when Gateway was closing all of its stores, continues to drive customers (77.5 million) and money ($3.6 billion in revenue) to the company, with an average of $10.7 million in revenue per store (which was down slightly from the previous quarter). Apple opened 30 new stores during the quarter, 21 of which are outside the United States; the first Hong Kong store marked the highest opening-day traffic for an Apple store.
Looking ahead to the 2012 fiscal year, Apple reiterated its focus on international expansion, expecting to open 40 stores, 30 of which will be outside the United States. Oppenheimer pointed out that Apple will also be expanding or replacing high volume stores that are “too constrained to deliver the expected customer experience,” especially in the United States.
Apple also stuck with an earnings-call tradition, pointing out that of the 1.1 million Mac sales in retail stores, about half of them were to first-time Mac buyers.
International Focus -- China and the Asian market figured heavily into April’s Q2 2011 earnings call (particularly because of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan; see “Apple Breaks More Records for Q2 2011,” 21 April 2011). When asked to comment on efforts there for Q4, Tim Cook said that Apple’s progress in China is “amazing,” accounting for $4.5 billion of Apple’s revenue for the current quarter, and $15 billion in revenue for the fiscal year. He noted that Apple now has six retail stores in greater China, as well as over 200 “monobranded” stores (“resellers with a premium shopping experience”) and 7,000 iPhone points of sale. “I’ve never seen as many people rising into the middle class, aspiring to buy the products that Apple makes,” Cook said.
Other areas show promise: sales in Brazil were up 118 percent year-over-year, crossing the $900 million mark, and Russia and the Middle East both have significant opportunities. Cook said that the iPhone is opening up markets where Apple hasn’t traditionally been strong, and the iPad will do the same.
Analysts’ questions about Asia also focused on manufacturing and supplies, especially given record-breaking flooding in Thailand that has shut down many factories that produce components for Apple and other technology companies. Cook said that the weather has made it difficult to assess the damage, and so a recovery timeline is unknown. He expects the primary exposure will be on the Mac, foreseeing an industry shortage of disk drives, but could not speculate on how that would affect Apple.
In terms of other components, one interesting admission from Cook was that Apple doesn’t broaden its number of suppliers to meet demand. “Our approach has been and I think will always be to do business with as few people as we can, so we can be very ‘deep’ with them and do great innovative stuff together,” he said. “They give us great quality and also reasonable prices.”