Recapping Apple’s 1Q23 Earnings Call

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Recapping Apple’s December-quarter numbers and dipping into the earnings call.

What Apple Had to Say For Itself for 1Q23

From Apple’s press release:

Apple today announced financial results for its fiscal 2023 first quarter ended December 31, 2022. The Company posted quarterly revenue of $117.2 billion, down 5 percent year over year, and quarterly earnings per diluted share of $1.88.

That missed the expectations of the Apple watchers followed by Apple 3.0 by a decent amount. The nine pros followed by that site were looking for revenue of $121.77B on EPS of a buck-94. The unaffiliated analysts followed by the site saw revenue of $123.82B, which would have been flat versus the same quarter a year earlier. They were also looking for earnings per share of $2.02.

Trying to inject a bit of pep, Apple CEO Tim Cook was quoted in the press release, saying:

As we all continue to navigate a challenging environment, we are proud to have our best lineup of products and services ever, and as always, we remain focused on the long term and are leading with our values in everything we do… During the December quarter, we achieved a major milestone and are excited to report that we now have more than 2 billion active devices as part of our growing installed base.

While the company had plans to explain itself, at least some investors weren’t in a listening mood. They also didn’t take heart from the pep talk part of the press release. A piece from CNBC had shares in the Cupertino-company falling 4% in extended trading on the weaker-than-expected results.

Looking At Why Apple Missed Expectations

On now to Mr. Cook’s explanation. There were three issue that hit Apple hard in the December-quarter: Foreign exchange headwinds, the COVID yoyo experienced in China, and the challenging macroeconomic environment — made so by inflation, war in Europe, ongoing effects of the pandemic, and other such factors. And yet, there were plenty of places where Apple did great. Cook pointed out all-time revenue records in a few markets, including Canada, Indonesia, Mexico, Spain, Turkey, and Vietnam. He also pointed to quarterly revenue records in Brazil and India.

We will be going back to India.

Let’s make our way through product categories, starting with iPhone. Was not great. Revenue for the device came in at $65.8B, down $5.8B or 8% from the same quarter a year earlier. Users love ‘em. Tim Cook loves ‘em. There were, however, not enough of them. 

Despite the issues, Apple CFO Luca Maestri pointed out areas of strength for the Jesus-phone. According to Mr. Maestri, Apple:

…set all-time iPhone revenue records in Canada, Italy and Spain, and saw strong growth in several emerging markets, including all-time iPhone revenue records for India and Vietnam.

Still No Specific Numbers, but … Some Numbers?

While Apple declined to put numbers on the installed base for iPhone specifically, the CFO did say iPhone’s installed base is growing, currently sitting “at an all-time high across all geographic segments,” with double-digit growth last quarter in emerging markets. The company also saw “record levels of switchers in India and in Mexico.” 

I said earlier that users love ‘em. In the states at least you can put that in bold. 451 Research puts U.S. iPhone customer satisfaction at 98% for the iPhone 14 line.

Mac revenue was also off, as Mr. Maestri indicated it would be on the last earnings call. Revenue for Apple’s computers came in at $7.7B — down $3.1B from the same quarter a year ago. A few factors hit that: foreign exchange headwinds, macro economic concerns, and a particularly tough compare. As CEO Cook pointed out, the December-quarter of 2021 saw the introduction of the M1 powered MacBook Pro. The same quarter a year later saw no new Macs introduced. Still, CFO Maestri pointed out that the Mac’s installed base is at an all-time high. That’s thanks in part to upgrades driven by Apple Silicon. And users love them. 451 Research puts customer satisfaction for the Mac in the U.S. at 96%.

iPad revenue came in at $9.4B — up $2.2B or 30% year-on-year. Kind of opposite the Mac, Apple’s tablet benefited from an easier compare. The company had trouble meeting demand in the December-quarter of 2021 thanks to component issues. Additionally, the company introduced a new iPad and an iPad Pro powered by M2 last quarter — again, sort of opposite the Mac. CFO Maestri says the installed base for iPad is at an all-time high. Over half the people buying an iPad last quarter were new to the product, according to the company. 

The State of Wearables, Home and Accessories

It’s hard to not see the Wearables, Home, and Accessories category as disappointing. Revenue for that segment came in at $13.5B — down $1.2B or 8% year-on-year. This was another victim of foreign exchange headwinds and the macroeconomic environment. That said, CEO Cook says he’s excited for the category given the love people have for Apple Watch Series 8 and Apple Watch Ultra. Plus, there’s a new HomePod coming out — not sure you’ve heard.

Despite the decline in revenue for the category, CFO Maestri said Apple’s installed base of things in the Wearables, Home, and Accessories category set an all-time record driven by Apple Watch. Apple sold more of those last quarter than any quarter before, with two-thirds of those sales going to people who’d never had one before.

The shiniest shiny on the call may have been the Services segment. Services revenue came in at $20.8B. That was an all-time quarterly record for the segment — up $1.3B versus the same quarter a year earlier. The amount was better than Apple expected and came despite weakness in digital advertising and mobile gaming. Those were weak thanks to the macroeconomic and foreign exchange-blah-blah. Apple’s CEO highlighted the performance of Apple TV+, Fitness+, and Apple Business Connect. He also put in a plug for MLS Season Pass and Apple’s 10-year partnership with Major League Soccer. Put ‘em all together and what’ve you got? Over 935-million paid subscriptions. 

CFO Maestri made the case for how that’s happened and why it seems likely to continue. Trends he says the company sees include increased customer engagement with Apple services during the December-quarter, continued growth in paid subscriptions (up 150-million over the last 12-months), and continued increase for the reach and quality of Apple’s services offerings. 

A Series of Shout Outs

Then there’s the other stuff. Apple’s CEO shouted out the privacy tools the company is making available to consumers. He shouted out Apple Retail. He shouted out the charitable and humanitarian efforts powered by Apple and its employees. And he shouted out moves the company’s made and continues to make tied to racial equity and inclusion, as well as the environment. 

So — what is ahead? They did the color-not-guidance thing again, so don’t hold them to it. According to CFO Maestri’s “directional insights,” Apple is looking for year-on-year revenue for the March-quarter to be similar to the December-quarter. Assuming it happens, it would represent “an acceleration” in Apple’s “year-over-year business performance…” That’s because the December-quarter had an extra week that the March-quarter does not. Foreign exchange will still be a headwind, hitting the company with a “negative year-over-year impact of 5 percentage points.” Services will continue to grow in the company’s estimation, though it’ll still be hard times for mobile games and digital ads. iPhone revenue will accelerate, relative to the December-quarter. And here’s something icky: Apple thinks revenue for both the Mac and the iPad will “decline double digits year-over-year because of challenging compares and macroeconomic headwinds.” 

And with that, the call was turned over to Q&A.

Answering Questions, Not Answering Questions and Non-Answers to Questions

Given how vexed Apple was last quarter by supply chain issues, it’s not surprising that the first question out of the gate concerned that. UBS analyst David Vogt asked about Apple’s supply chain, and whether the company’s thinking on it had changed.

For now, said Apple’s CEO, “production is what we need it to be, and so the problem is behind us.” Apparently addressing the unasked question, “is the chain too tied up in China,” Cook said Apple builds its stuff everywhere, with components coming from many countries and three-countries currently cranking out iPhone. Given how whack the last three-years have been, thanks to COVID and the silicon shortage, Apple’s supply chain has been resilient overall. But — yeah, they will “continue to optimize it over time…” 

Shannon Cross of Credit Suisse was hoping to find out what’s up in China. Specifically, could the execs talk about demand since the country cut loose from its COVID restrictions.

The answer — yes and no? When things started to open in December, Apple saw increases in both traffic to its stores and demand for its products. While the CEO stressed a marked changed in China from November to December, he did not want to comment on what happened in January. Instead he said what Apple’s seeing was reflected in Luca’s “directional insights” earlier in the call. 

Wells Fargo analyst Aaron Rakers asked a fun question: How does Apple think about the roll of AI in its services business? The answer wasn’t as fun as it could have been. While CEO Cook said AI was a major focus of Apple’s, he pointed to such un-fun applications as Fall Detection, Crash Detection, and ECG on Apple Watch. That said, he said AI “will affect every product and every service” that Apple has.

Piper Sandler analyst Harsh Kumar had a question about emerging markets. Or, market. Or, India. What are Apple’s hopes versus what is achievable?

Apple’s CEO pointed out that the company set a quarterly revenue record in India, “and grew very strong, double digits year over year.” Online retail’s been running there for a couple of years now. Physical Apple stores will be there, soon. According to Cook, the company is “in essence taking what [it] learned in China years ago and how [it] scaled China and bringing that to bear…”

Staying on the subcontinent, CitiGroup analyst “Gentleman” Jim Suva wondered whether Apple was seeing even more opportunity there now that we’re “exiting COVID…” Even through COVID, CEO Cook says Apple did fairly well in India. “I’m even more bullish now on the other side of it, or hopefully on the other side of it,” said Cook “And that’s the reason why we’re investing there.” 

BofA analyst Wamsi Mohan was maybe a bit less nuanced than one might be. He said Cook & Co. have done a great job driving consumers to the higher end of product line-up. The question now, is the move to higher Average Selling Prices sustainable? Cook said this is a very strong Pro cycle and seemed to want to leave it there, though Mr. Mohan did not: “do you think that (…) this move to sort of higher ASPs that has happened over the last few years is sustainable or could it could sustain on this very tough macro environment that you’ve cited?”

Mr. Cook’s response — The smartphone (iPhone) is so integral to people’s lives (they keep contacts on them, health info, banking info, important info)… Given how central they are to people’s lives, Cook says he thinks “people are willing to really stretch to get the best they can afford in that category.”

There were two questions that many had hoped to hear answered on Apple’s call: One tied to current-quarter iPhone sales and one tied to layoffs. Evercore analyst Amit Daryanani has leaned pretty hard on a lot of iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max sales missed last quarter coming back this quarter. So — will they? Or — historically, have they in the past? 

Quoting Cook’s answer:

It’s very hard to estimate, is the real answer, because you have to know a lot of data, and it’s usually only in hindsight that you have a more reasonable view of it.

That is a long time to wait for a non-answer answer. 

As for potential layoffs, while the company did not address those specifically, it doesn’t sound like they’re on the horizon. Quoting Cook from the call:

…whatever conditions we face, our approach is always the same: We are thoughtful and deliberate. We manage for the long term. We adapt quickly to circumstances outside our control while delivering with excellence in the things we can. We invest in innovation, in people, and in the positive difference we can make in the world.

I guess adapting quickly could include staff reduction, though there was no indication of any such thing on the call. 

Giving Thanks Where Thanks Are Due

Big thanks to Jason Snell and Dan Moren at Six Colors — they were early with a transcript of the December-quarter call. If you want to pour over every word — If you’re more of a listener than a reader — Apple’s got you covered. They’ve got a replay of the call up on their site. That’ll be there for a couple of weeks. It’s also available as a podcast. That should also be available for a couple of weeks.

No doubt the usual suspects will weigh in on Apple earnings today and over the next few days. We’ll hit reaction notes on Monday.

Today on The Mac Observer’s Daily Observations Podcast

You’ll never guess. TMO Managing Editor Jeff Butts and I kick through Apple’s December-quarter earnings, plus the Q&A part of the call. That’s today on the Daily Observations Podcast from The Mac Observer.

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