Apple avoids the recent gloomy results of rivals Amazon, Alphabet, and Meta. But it still warns of a slow holiday ahead

Apple delivered just enough good news in its quarterly report Thursday to avoid the fate of most tech giants this earning season, when its peers have seen valuations plunge by hundreds of billions of dollars. 

Though sales of iPhones and services were softer than expected last quarter, Apple’s revenue and profit both topped analysts’ estimates. The company said that growth wouldn’t be as strong during the current period, but investors found enough optimism to send the stock higher in late trading Thursday.Play Video

That provided a sharp contrast with Alphabet Inc., Inc., Meta Platforms Inc., Microsoft Corp. and others, which all delivered gloomy earnings reports in recent days, sending their shares tumbling

Even Apple’s generally positive results raised questions for investors, who are looking for signs that the long-resilient company might finally fall victim to a slowing economy. Apple’s iPhone and services sales came in just shy of projections — sparking concerns about two areas that were expected to be strong performers. And Apple’s Mac computer business will decline substantially in the holiday quarter following a sales surge driven by new models, Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri warned on a conference call.

With loyal customers still eager to snap up its pricey products, Apple has been seen as an outlier during a punishing tech slowdown. The company also released its latest iPhone earlier in the year than usual, giving the fiscal fourth quarter a greater portion of sales from Apple’s flagship device. But roaring inflation and a broader slowdown in consumer spending, particularly for personal devices, may still be weighing on the company.

The iPhone, Apple’s flagship device, generated about $42.6 billion in the fourth quarter, which ended Sept. 24, the company said. Analysts had estimated nearly $42.7 billion. Services, such as music and video streaming, brought in $19.2 billion. That was well short of the almost $20 billion projection. 

The shares had declined 18% this year heading into the earnings, though that was a better performance than that of most major indexes. The S&P 500 has lost 20% in 2022, and the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index is down 31%.

The Cupertino, California-based company didn’t provide a specific revenue forecast for the current quarter, continuing an approach it adopted at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. But analysts estimate sales of about $128 billion, which would be an all-time record.

Apple’s overall revenue grew 8.1% to about $90.1 billion in the fiscal fourth quarter. That beat the $88.6 billion estimate, because of better-than-expected growth in its Mac and wearables businesses. Earnings of $1.29 a share topped the average projection of $1.26.

Apple’s iPhone remains its biggest source of sales, and the company was expected to get a boost from an earlier release this quarter. The period included about nine days of sales of the iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max. But the iPhone 14 Plus — a new format that has seen a tepid response from consumers — didn’t launch until the current quarter.

While the iPhone 14 Pro looks similar to the past two models, new features like a 48-megapixel back camera and the Dynamic Island interface have helped entice shoppers. 

The company’s services business includes its Music and TV+ streaming platforms, as well as the Apple Card, iCloud storage and other digital offerings. It’s seen as one of Apple’s key sales drivers, especially as the company expands into new types of services.0.99 a month from $9.99, and TV+ increased to $6.99 monthly from $4.99. Apple also modestly bumped pricing for its Apple One services bundles. The increases could further fuel revenue, though they also risk having customers defect to rival services.

Sales of the iPad, meanwhile, decreased 13% to $7.17 billion last quarter, also missing expectations. The tablet saw a sales resurgence in 2020 and 2021, helped by workers and students equipping their home offices during the pandemic. Demand has slowed since then, and the device suffered from supply-chain snags over the past year.

Apple launched a new iPad Air earlier this year, but it didn’t come out with a new iPad Pro or entry-level model until the current quarter. 

Apple generated $11.5 billion from the Mac, handily beating estimates of $9.25 billion. That product line also enjoyed a pandemic bump, fueled by the spread of hybrid work environments. But it suffered a slowdown as well, with Mac sales badly missing estimates in the June quarter.

The Mac bounced back in the fourth quarter, with sales marking a record for that period. The category was buoyed by a redesigned MacBook Air and new low-end 13-inch MacBook Pro — Apple’s two most popular computers.

On the call, Maestri said that the Mac had a stronger-than-usual quarter in last year’s holiday quarter due to the redesigned 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros. Those were Apple’s first high-end laptops built with its own processors, replacing chips from Intel Corp. That kind of shift won’t be replicated this holiday period.

The company’s wearables, home and accessories segment, which includes the Apple Watch, AirPods, the TV set-top box, HomePod, Beats headphones and other accessories, also saw momentum last quarter. Apple made $9.65 billion from those products, beating expectations.

In September, the company launched the Apple Watch Ultra and second-generation AirPods Pro earbuds. A new Apple TV with a faster chip is going on sale in early November.

Apple signaled in its previous quarterly report that it would be more cautious with spending, part of a broader deceleration for Silicon Valley companies. Unlike some peers, Apple has avoided mass layoffs. But it plans to cut back on expenditures in 2023 and slow hiring, Bloomberg News has reported. “Obviously we’re being deliberate in our decisions of where to invest,” Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook said in July.

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