AAPL Earnings Recap; iPhone Growth Accelerating

Apple reported a 4Q14 earnings beat to consensus and my estimate with strong guidance driven by iPhone sales strength. 

Few takeaways and notes:

Mac. Over the past few weeks I was noticing that the Peak Mac theory, which stated that Apple will never sell as many Macs in a single quarter as occurred in 1Q12 (5.2 million Macs), was at risk of breaking apart as my long-term 4Q15 estimate was for 5.4 million Macs. Apple ended up reporting 5.5 million Mac unit sales last quarter, representing strong 21% year-over-year (yoy) growth, and a new quarterly unit sales record. Recent price cuts and upgrades resulted in strong Mac sales to college students.  

iPad. Apple reported a 13% decline in iPad unit sales, which was in-line with my expectation.  People calling for iPad’s death will likely be disappointed though given the likelihood of a new iPad Pro model in 2015, along with the recently announced cheaper iPad mini and refreshed iPad Air 2. I still think iPad sales will pale in comparison to iPhone over time and the iPhone 6 will continue to cannibalize iPad sales, but Apple management seemed confident that there are enough niches (education and enterprise) to at least keep iPad sales from collapsing. I think it is appropriate to view iPad more like Mac, and given Mac’s respectable growth last quarter, the iPad is far from over.

iPhone.  Apple’s overall earnings per share (EPS) beat my estimate by $0.10/share on stronger iPhone sales (39.3 million vs. my 36.5 million estimate).  Management provided very bullish iPhone commentary with the expectation that iPhone will remain supply constrained through the end of the year. Apple shared other data points that reinforce iPhone momentum is accelerating from 13% yoy unit growth in 3Q14 to 16% growth last quarter to expected 30% growth in 1Q15. 

Margins. According to management, the stronger dollar will be a “significant headwind” for Apple in the near-term, but the 37.5-38.5% guidance range already reflects the FX impact. On a normalized basis, I wouldn’t be surprised if margin is closer to 40%, compared to 38.6% in 2014, on iPhone 6 strength. 

Apple Watch Disclosure.  Apple caused a minor Twitter uproar with new disclosure commentary concerning the way operating segments will be reported, including Apple Watch being lumped in with a few other products within the ”Other Products” segment.  Is Apple trying to hide something? I suspect the main reason for the classification is that Apple doesn’t want to release too much information to competitors. If Apple disclosed Apple Watch revenues and unit sales, it would be possible to obtain average selling prices (ASP) and then back into which models were selling well, thereby giving key data to both low-end and high-end watch competitors. It isn’t clear if Apple will disclose Apple Watch unit sales, such as opening weekend sales. I think it is reasonable to think if the sales are good, Apple may want to say how many units are sold without breaking out revenues. 

Guidance. Apple provided strong guidance beating my revenue estimate and consensus. Most of the beat can be attributed to iPhone, where Apple could sell upwards of 65-66 million iPhone units, which would be the strongest yoy growth (30%) in over two years. The exact sales number will depend on how many iPhones Apple can produce, but it is safe to say that iPhone’s growth is accelerating.

Apple is now trading at 13x forward EPS with net income growing 15-20% yoy.