Apple Ups the Secrecy with Wall Street

Apple continued to up its vaguery game when it comes to Wall Street, eliminating two more categories of numbers from what it breaks out. On Tuesday, Apple stopped reporting iPod sales numbers, beginning with the December quarter, the company's first fiscal quarter. Of course, the iPod stopped being a meaningful contributor to Apple's bottom line long ago.

Even more importantly, Apple didn't break out its retail store performance numbers, including total retail revenue, profits derived from retail revenue, and the number of store visitors. Instead, Apple is lumping in its retail performance numbers in with its geographic regions.


Apple has been steadily pulling back on what it discloses for years. Apple long ago stopped breaking down Mac unit sales by model, or even category. Similarly, Apple stopped breaking down iPod unit sales by model, but the company was still reporting total sales for the category through last quarter.

Apple is under no legal or regulatory requirement to disclose specific sales numbers for any given product. Many companies do so, but it's strictly to serve the needs of shareholders and the Wall Street infrastructure that services those shareholders.

Analysts and shareholders alike can use unit sales numbers to gauge the relative health of a company by zeroing in on the specifics of this or that product line. But that doesn't mean every company does. For instance, Apple is one of the only companies to report actual sales—most computer and smartphone firms report units shipped, not units sold, and there can be a vast chasm of difference between the two.


The flip side of this coin is that companies like Apple prefer to keep as much as they can as close to their corporate vests as is possible. From a competitive standpoint, the less the competition knows about how specific products are doing the better.

From a Wall Street perspective, the less Apple says, the better it can control the narrative. This is a strategy that has worked remarkably well for Apple from a public relations standpoint since Steve Jobs returned to the company in 1997. Under the stewardship of CEO Tim Cook, Apple has been increasingly applying the same strategy to Wall Street.

In the question and answer session in Tuesday's quarterly conference call with analysts, Tim Cook mildly observed, "We're not hanging numbers out there to be measured on, though."

It may seem like a throwaway, off-the-cuff line, but Mr. Cook is the most careful communicator in technology today. There is so much packed into that statement, and it's all about controlling the message and keeping the competition guessing.

It also puts an additional spin on another quote from Mr. Cook that has usually been tied to Apple's efforts to keep its product plans secret. On stage at 2012's D10 conference, Mr. Cook said, "We're going to double down on secrecy." Apparently that applies to Wall Street, too, only in hindsight, not future plans.

This is Not Your Father's Apple

The whole thing is a statement about Apple's growing clout. Apple can choose to be choosy because it's on top of the corporate world. The company already has as much analyst coverage as it could possibly need. More importantly, it's returning an incredible amount of money to shareholders and giving them marvelous stock growth.

The message now is if that if you want to follow us, you'll do it on our terms.

Image made with help from Shutterstock.

*In the interest of full disclosure, the author holds a tiny, almost insignificant share in AAPL stock that was not an influence in the creation of this article.