Apple Tops Forecasts on Strong Mac, iPhone Sales

Once again, Apple surpassed expectations and reported quarterly revenue and earnings on the high side of its projections.

For its fiscal 2009 third-quarter ended June 27, the company reported a net profit of $1.23 billion, or $1.35 per diluted share, on revenues of $8.34 billion.

Analysts had a wide range of expectations from the company, with revenues projected at between $8 billion and $8.49 billion in revenue. Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL), as it so often does, undersold itself the most, projecting revenue of $7.9 billion.

“We’re very proud of this result, particularly given the economy around us,” Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer said during the company’s earning conference call.

Gross margin was 36.3 percent, up from 34.8 percent in the year-ago quarter. Apple attributed the bump to component costs not rising as much as expected, not spending as much on service and repairs, and being able to ramp up new products at lower cost.

It looks like the price cuts and refreshes of the MacBook line helped Apple’s top line. The company sold 2.6 million Macintosh computers during the quarter, a 4 percent unit increase over the year-ago quarter.

Apple also sold 5.2 million iPhones in the quarter, a 626 percent unit growth over the same quarter last year. However, since Apple released the iPhone 3GS in June, it makes a year-to-year comparison somewhat skewed: During the same period last year, buyers may have been holding off on purchases in anticipation of the new iPhone 3G, which debuted in July 2008.

During the most recent quarter, Apple also sold 10.2 million iPods, representing a 7 percent unit decline from the 2008 quarter. Apple itself was partly responsible for the decline as it reduced channel inventory by 400,000.

Oppenheimer said Apple knew its “traditional” MP3 player — its line of iPods, excluding the iPod Touch — would eventually go away.

“That’s why we made the iPod Touch and iPhone,” he said. “We expect traditional sales to decline as we cannibalize ourselves with the Touch and iPhone, but we expect to enjoy many, many years of sales as we add new products to the traditional MP3 player line.”

The quarter also saw the addition of six new Apple Stores, raising the total to 258, while 27 have been remodeled. Of the 2.6 million Macs sold in the quarter, 492,000 were sold through the stores, and half were to first-time computer buyers, according to Oppenheimer. Apple plans to open 24 new stores in 2009 and remodel about 27 more, it said.

Income from the iPhone was $1.69 billion, but since Apple recognizes the revenue over a two-year period, the value of sales differed — $2.9 billion for the iPhone 3G and 3GS.

For its fourth quarter, Apple said it expects revenue to range from $8.7 billion to $8.9 billion, with earnings from $1.18 to $1.23 per share.

More grist for the rumor mill

Apple executive also didn’t do much to discourage persistent rumors about new iPod Touch models — such as one with a camera and microphone — or the long-rumored Apple tablet PC. During today’s call, Oppenheimer said that Apple had prepaid supplier Toshiba for $500 million in NAND flash memory, thought to be a likely candidate in either. He did not say why, nor did anyone ask during the Q&A session.

Meanwhile, Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook reiterated Apple’s lack of interest in a netbook — another longtime rumor. The company has routinely dismissed the idea of creating a low-cost, low-power mobile PC, suggesting that the user experience one might deliver wouldn’t be up to Apple’s standards. Cook held fast to that position today.

“Our goal is not to build the most computers — it’s to build the best,” he said. “Whatever price point we can build the best at, we will play there,” he said. “At this point we don’t see a way to build a great product for this kind of price point unit.”

Rumors have also long circled around Apple’s relationship with AT&T, the iPhone’s exclusive carrier in the U.S. During last month’s Worldwide Developer Conference, Apple executives noted a number of areas where AT&T support for key iPhone features — like MMS multimedia messaging — had been lacking.

But Cook said the two companies remain on solid terms.

“I think that most of the carriers that we’re doing business with are thrilled over the lower churn they’ve experienced with the iPhone, and their customers are demanding the iPhone, so I feel like we have a good set of relations,” he said.

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