By Carlo Versano
With a dismal October on the books, investors are now looking to Thursday's earnings report from Apple for signs that tech stocks are ready to rebound.
The trillion-dollar company will report its fiscal fourth-quarter earnings after the closing bell. Analysts are estimating about 48 million iPhones and 11 million iPads were sold in the three-month period, with earnings per share of $2.78 on roughly $62 billion in revenues.
If Apple ($AAPL) hits that mark, it will be a 34 percent year-over-year boost in earnings per share. And investors will be keeping a keen eye on sales guidance for the upcoming holidays, when a slate of new (and pricier) products like an updated MacBook Air and iPad Pro should boost sales for its laptop and tablet lines.
Andy Hargreaves, an equity research analyst at Keybanc Capital Markets, told Cheddar he would be surprised if this wasn't a blowout quarter for Apple ー if for no other reason than price increases.
A theme of Apple's recent earnings reports has been the payoff of what's known as ASP (average selling price). Faced with plateauing iPhone sales ー its bread and butter ー the company gambled that by raising prices, it would boost margins, and not overly upset its loyal fan base. The iPhone X, priced at $1,000, was the test for this strategy when it debuted last year.
So far, it seems to be working. Last quarter, even with flat iPhone sales, Apple's overall profit jumped over 31 percent. It doubled down in September with the introduction of the iPhone XR, XS, and XS Max, all with higher ASPs than their previous models. Thursday's earnings will give a glimpse of whether early-adopters flocked to those expensive devices as they did the X.
"ASP on iPhones should be excellent," Hargreaves predicted. But he noted that hardware makers have been able to get away with raising prices so long as they're tied to new products with larger screens.
"The one thing that consumers really latch on to and are willing to pay for is screen size," he said. But screens can only get so big. Hargreaves thinks this will become a major headwind for Apple in the mid- to long-term.
Then there's its wearables line. The Apple Watch started off slow when it debuted in 2015. But the latest iteration with a redesigned face ー a suite of new features and a faster processor received positive reviews and that response is expected to mature into a reliable profit engine. Apple has thus far opted not to disclose Watch sales, deeming the information competitively sensitive. But last quarter, it said its "other products" division, which includes Watch and its accessories, beat estimates with $3.7 billion in revenues.
Analysts will be paying close attention to Apple's services business, which includes subscription products like Apple Music and iCloud and has surprised many Apple-watchers with its growth over the past year, as more and more devices join the Apple ecosystem and rely on its support services. Hargreaves is slightly less bullish on the services business, noting that it's weighted toward low-margin products like the music-streaming platform, though it still prints money with the high-margin App store.
"It's all over the board within services," he said.
Hargreaves also called the prospect of Apple as a content provider "neutral to the bottom line." The company is spending $1 billion this year on new and exclusive content production. Original video is extremely expensive ーjust ask Netflix ($NFLX), which spends eight times that amount.
Apple's shows will probably serve as "marketing engine" more than anything else, the analyst said.
For full interview click here.