Apple Earnings – The Resilience & Effectiveness Of Apple

Last Thursday, Apple announced its Q4 FY2022 earnings results as follows

  • Revenue: $90.15 bn vs $88.9 bn estimated. Up 8% year over year (YoY)
  • Gross Margin: 42.3% vs 42.1% estimated. Essentially flat YoY
  • iPhone revenue: $42.63 bn vs $43.21 bn estimated. Up 9.7% YoY
  • Mac revenue: $11.51 bn vs $9.36 bn estimated . Up 25.4% YoY
  • iPad revenue: $7.17 bn vs $7.94 bn estimated. Down 13.6% YoY
  • Other Products revenue: $9.65 bn vs $9.17 bn estimated. Up 9.9% YoY
  • Services revenue: $19.19 bn vs $20.1 bn estimated. Up 5% YoY
  • EPS$1.29 vs. $1.27 estimated

On the surface, it looks like a routinely great quarter for Apple, but there are a few points worth calling out.

Apple's revenue growth
Figure 1 – Apple’s revenue growth

First, Apple got hit with a 600 basis point of unfavorable foreign exchange impact due to the strength of the dollar. Had the currency exchange stayed constant, Apple’s revenue growth would likely have been two-digits and could have gone up to as much as 14%. Despite significant foreign exchange headwinds, product margin was 35%, flat compared to Q3 FY2022, and 100 basis point up year over year. This indicates Apple managed to gain efficiency and sell more expensive products. To investors who care about how a company is run, this is a good sign.

Second, the stickiness of iPhone. Since Q4 FY2020, iPhone revenue has increased year over year every quarter. In FY2022, iPhone revenue grew by 7%, on top of the monstrous 39% growth achieved in FY2021. As a billion business worth more than $200 billion, that’s no mean feat. More impressively, the numbers could have been even rosier. According to Tim Cook, the company has been facing and still faces supply chain constraints for the popular iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max. Had Apple had enough parts to meet the demand, they could have added a couple of more billions to their top line. In the time of unprecedented inflation and uncertain macro-economic conditions, this shows how much consumers love their iPhone and considers it more of a necessity than a luxury.

Apple business segments' revenue growth
Figure 2 – Apple business segments’ revenue growth

Next, Services grew 5% YoY and slightly missed analysts’ expectation. Adding the estimated foreign exchange impact of 600 basis points, Services would have grown by 11%, beating the consensus. Since 2018, Services has grown by double digits every year, reaching $78.1 billion in annual revenue in FY2022, up from almost $40 billion in 2018. Compared to previous year, FY2022 posed a lower annual growth, but there are levers that Apple can pull:

  • Apple recently announced price hikes on Apple Music, Apple TV+ & Apple One. The company explained that the price increase for Apple Music is due to more payouts to artists while that for Apple TV+ is fair considering the amount of content that Apple has added since the launch of the streaming service. As the flagship overarching subscription, of course, Apple One will also be more expensive. I think the justification makes sense because if Apple REALLY wanted to increase Services revenue and abuse its power, the company would raise iCloud’s prices. There are alternatives to Apple Music and TV+, but there is nothing to replace iCloud and no Apple user I know doesn’t buy additional storage. In short, this is not a move out of desperation.
  • Apple is loading more ads on the App Store. In their 2022 annual report, the company already cited advertising as one of the main drivers behind Services’ growth. Ads revenue is great and all, but too many ads will harm the user experience. Plus, there is already backlash from developers who saw online gaming ads placed next to their apps. Hence, Apple needs to be careful and considerate about pushing their advertising division
  • Apple Business Essentials. There has been no disclosure from Apple regarding this service, but I suspect it will come to the fold more in the next couple of years

Last but not least, I am really pleased with how Apple manages its costs. The gross margin profile of Products, Services and the whole company have been very stable in the last four years, despite Covid-19, the war in Ukraine, the withdrawal from Russia, the supply chain challenges and other macro-economic events. Operating expenses, including R&D and SG&A, as % of total revenue never exceeded 8% in the last four years. Based on the commentary from the executives, that should be the case for the next twelve months:

When we look at our capex, as you correctly said, I mean, we’ve been fairly stable, and I think our capital intensity is really very good. We have three major buckets in capex for the company. We have certain dedicated tools for the manufacturing facilities. We had some spend around data centers, and we have spent around our office facilities around the world. We obviously monitor all of them. There is nothing unusual that we see for the next 12 months.

When a company reaches a trillion dollar mark in valuation and generates billions of dollars in cash flow every 90 days, there is understandably a risk of being negligent on cost control. Think about yourself. Do you allow yourself more luxuries and impulsive purchases now than you did as a student and when you had lower income? From this perspective, Apple has been a disciplined and prudent steward of shareholder capital. To some extent, I don’t think you can make the same point about other big techs, such as Amazon or Facebook.

Apple's gross margin
Figure 3 – Apple’s gross margin

In short, this quarter’s results were not the most impressive that Apple has ever put out. They were just routinely and boringly good from my perspective and for the reasons I listed above. Even though there is no headline-grabbing debate-fueling stuff such as the investment in Reality Labs by Facebook, I prefer a stable and effective management that keeps their feet on the ground and produces results for shareholders.

Apple Q3 FY2022 Earnings

A well-managed company

Let’s go over the headline numbers first. Apple had a record Q3 result with almost $83 billion in revenue, a 2% YoY increase on the back of a 36% growth last year. The 1% decline in product revenue was more than offset by the 12% growth in Services, which hit almost $20 billion in sales. The company’s gross margin profile this quarter stayed relatively similar to the historical trends: 36% for Products, 71% for Services and 43% for the whole company. Operating margin was 28%, down 200 basis points YoY, while net margin dropped to 23% from 27% in Q3 last year.

Figure 1 – Apple’s revenue and YoY growth

Make no mistakes: this was a tough quarter. All companies had to deal with significant challenges such as the new variant of Covid-19, unfavorable foreign exchange headwind, supply chain constraints, the war in Ukraine and macroeconomic concerns across the globe. Big retailers like Walmart or Target reported higher expenses and lower profit guidance. Meta had the first revenue decline in history while incurring more operational expenses. Even the great Amazon saw a 4% decline in revenue from their famous eCommerce segment.

Figure 2 – Product, Service & Overall Gross Margin

Yet, we see Apple increase their top line, albeit modestly. Unfavorable foreign exchange rates were estimated to have a 300 basis point impact. Otherwise, the revenue growth would have been higher. On the other side of the equation, Apple stayed disciplined with their costs. Gross margin was relatively intact while the operating expenses (R&D and SG&A) were under controlled and rose only modestly. We all know how hard it is personally to stay disciplined with living expenses when disposable income grows. Hence, given the balance sheet that Apple has, they deserve praise for not wasting shareholders’ money on unnecessary acquisitions or ludicrous ventures.

For the next quarter, the company expected a 600 basis point impact from foreign exchange, better-than-this-quarter supply chain status and an acceleration in revenue growth. The positive note on revenue forecast is dire contrast with a somber tone from other companies, especially when we take into the size of Apple and the breadth of its operations across the world. Apple used to be a design firm known for the willingness to spend on products and services regardless of the cost. Tim Cook took over and steered the company towards a financially and operationally disciplined entity. It pays off handsomely.

iPhone and the resilient brand

Commentary from the management detailed how strong customer loyalty was towards the Apple brand. iPhone customer satisfaction stood at 98% and there were record switchers from other operating systems to iOS. Installed base for Mac, iPad and Wearables all reached a new all-time high. Over half of the new customers in the quarter were new to these products.

Apple products don’t exactly fall into the necessity category due to their high prices. As inflation hits consumers hard every country and supply chain issues still wreck multiple industries, it’s nothing short of impressive to see a 3% YoY increase in iPhone sales. That is robust proof of how dominant and what a great brand iPhone is. And we all know that once a consumer enters the Apple ecosystem, they are likely to buy more products and services. Therefore, investors can be more confident in the strength of Apple’s business amidst economic downturns, but there is NO guarantee that will happen.

Figure 3 – Apple Business Segments’ YoY Growth

Greater China

China still made up 18% of the total company, pretty much in line with the historical figures for Q3. According to Apple, China’s Services revenue grew faster than the company average of 24% and hit an all-time June quarter record. The growth in Services revenue was offset by the lower demand of products in China, due to the lockdown, albeit a push late in June. China’s operating margin dropped from 43% to 38%. Because Services, which has a higher margin, grew this quarter, the drop in operating margin is likely attributed to higher SG&A. Traditionally, Q4 is the weakest quarter for China, both in revenue and operating margin. I expect the revenue share and operating margin to drop to 17% and 34% respectively. It’d be great to have an analyst ask the management for more color on China in Q4.

Figure 4 – Apple’s Revenue broken down by geographic areas
Figure 5 – Geographic areas’ operating margin

Services

Per Apple:

Our Services set a June quarter revenue record of $19.6 billion, up 12% over a year ago, with all-time revenue records in the Americas and the rest of Asia Pacific and June quarter records in Europe and Greater China. We also achieved June quarter revenue records in each major Services category, including all-time revenue records for Music, Cloud Services, Apple Care, and Payment Services.

Source: Fool.com

Where are the critics of Apple’s growing Services? The pivot to Services a few years ago raised eyebrows, but eventually proved extremely fruitful and important to Apple. Not only does Services make customer experience on Apple’s devices better, but it also aids the company’s profitability with 70% gross margin. Since 2019, Services is the only part of the business that has had no down quarter and as of this quarter, made up 24% of the company’s top line. For reference, in terms of 4-quarter rolling average revenue, Apple’s Services is already bigger than Amazon’s AWS.

The number of paid subscriptions rose steadily every quarter over the past 4 years and hit the 860-million mark. At this rate, we’ll cross the 1-billion mark in the next 12 months. As the paid subscription population is highly correlated with Services revenue, the more subscriptions there are, the higher Services revenue grows.

Figure 6 – Apple’s paid subscription and Services revenue

Additionally, Apple’s commentary on the drivers of Services is very interesting. Apparently, the major contributors are Cloud, Apple Care, Payment Services and Music. The first three have high margin and are like to grow since they are sticky and central to user experience with Apple devices. How many use an iPhone without iCloud and Apple Pay? When, not if, this trend continues, it will do wonders to the gross margin of Services and the company.

One notable absence is ads. It’s understandable that this quarter saw some softness when the likes of Snap, Facebook or Google all reported slower growth than expected. But once this current economic environment subsides, ads will be a great lever to pull. Formerly limited to the Search tab on the App Store, Apple Ads was recently expanded ads to Today’s tab. More ads slots mean more revenue for Apple. These dollars also have high margin and don’t

Apple’s financials through charts

Apple revealed a stunning quarter last Thursday, surprising analysts and, in my opinion, even themselves. You can listen to the earnings call and read the 10Q here. I am putting the numbers in perspective through the charts below. If you find my work useful and informative, I’ll appreciate a thumb up or a follow. Have a nice weekend!

Apple had about $124 billion in Q1 FY2022. If we look at the last four quarters, it generated $94 billion a quarter, higher than most Fortune 500 companies did in 2021

Services has got a lot of attention due to its explosive growth, but Product and iPhone in particular are still the main revenue drivers

Both Product and Services’ gross margins have been increasing in the last 2 years. Services’ margin is an astonishing 72%

Wearables is now Apple’s 3rd biggest business

Wearables and Services have grown every quarter YoY since 2018

Apple is back in China

Japan, Apple’s smallest geographic segment, has an astounding operating margin of 47%

Apple’s users are increasingly engaged within the ecosystem

Direct channels have made up 1/3 of Apple’s business in the last three years

Disclaimer: I own Apple stocks in my portfolio

Impressive as it is, Apple’s Services is still in the early days

Long known as an iPhone company, Apple has transformed itself in recent years to become less dependent on the iconic consumer gadget. I doubt the transformation stemmed from a desire to get rid of the association. Rather, the transformation is to respond to the consumers’ tendency to hold on to their devices longer and to keep the ecosystem strong as well as the products sticky. In FY 2014, Services was responsible for only 10% of Apple’s revenue. In FY2020, the figure doubled to 20%. It may not sound much, but it is given that we’re talking about a company of Apple’s size, stature and $250+ billion in annual revenue.

The growth of their Services is also reflected by the steadily expanding number of paid subscribers. In Q4 FY2020, Apple announced that they had 585 million paid subscribers and were well on track to finish the calendar year 2020 with 600 million subscribers. Only two years ago, the subscriber base stood 330 million as of Q4 FY2018.

Two days ago, Apple provided a few data points with regard to their services:

  • Developers have earned $200 billion through the App Store since 2008
  • Between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve in 2020, consumers spent $1.8 billion on digital goods and services on the App Store, with $540 million alone on New Year’s Day
  • Apple Music added 52 new territories and now has 70 million songs and 250,000 exclusive radio episodes
  • Apple TV App is “1 billion screens in over 100 countries and regions”
  • Apple Pay is available in 90% of stores in the US, 85% in UK and 99% in Australia
  • Apple Books has 90 million monthly active users
  • Apple Podcast is available in over 175 countries with programming in more than 100 languages
  • “More than 85 percent of iCloud users are protected with two-factor authentication”

I wish there would be more context for us to judge these numbers, but two data points specifically stand out for me. First of all, developers earned more during the Holiday Week between 24th Dec and 1st Jan in 2020 than they did in 2019. The App Store’s spending in 2020 went over $72 billion, easily dwarfing the $39 billion that Google Play had to offer. When consumers spend more on the App Store year after year, developers have more incentives to produce apps which, in turn, make the App Store even more vibrant. Plus, even though Android is on more devices than iOS, the App Store still generated more consumer spending, confirming the long observation on the market that Apple users are a more lucrative clientele for developers. If resources are constrained, why not focusing on where the money is?

Second, 85% of iCloud users enable two-factor authentication. Personally I only turn on the two-factor authentication for important accounts like my bank accounts, Gmail and iCloud. The figure provided by Apple indicates to me how iCloud users think about their account, implying a high degree of attachment and stickiness.

When it comes to Apple’s Services, I don’t consider them user-acquisition tools. Acquiring users is more like the job of the company’s legendary brand, marketing and hardware. I don’t think anyone switches from Android to iOS simply because they want to use either Apply Pay, Apply Books or Apple Podcast. Rather, Services keep users engaged and locked into the ecosystem. So far, these Services have done wonders for Apple and there is so much room to grow. Some s such as Apple Card, Apple TV+, Apple Fitness+ or Apple One are very new and limited to only a few markets. They are still in the development stage. Once they are further developed and introduced to more markets, Apple’s Services pie will grow bigger and their “overseas” customers will be even more locked in.

And then there are areas where Apple can potentially make inroads. The company has a knack for making small, incremental yet meaningful changes in complicated matters. It will not surprise me if they find a way to make our lives easier in areas such as our job, education or insurance. These offer plenty of opportunities for improvement and they are very personal; which is what Apple is all about. The company doesn’t even need to come up with paid services to generate more revenue. Even free services that can keep customers happy and locked in would already be valuable. Once customers are happy and locked in, the money will come later.

I heard and saw criticisms about Apple’s Services such as Apple TV+ or News+ or Fitness+. While some of those criticisms were warranted, it’s worth remembering that it’s rare to get something perfect at first try. Apple launched great and disappointing products before. Yet, the company is still here and among the top 5 richest companies in the world. The company is in the early days to grow their Services portfolio, trying, tweaking and expanding as they go along.

Disclaimer: I own Apple’s stocks in my portfolio

How big are AWS and Apple Services?

AWS and Services have gained increasing attention in recent years for their role in Amazon and Apple’s growth respectively. I gathered revenue data on both and compared it to the comparable figure of some famous brands. The comparison should put the size of AWS and Services in perspective. The figures were retrieved from the latest available annual reports of the companies.

The two growing business segments of Amazon and Apple generated more revenue than some of the global household names. In the past 6 years (when the data is available), the segments have grown impressively fast. According to my calculations, from 2013 to 2018, the CAGR of Apple Services and AWS is 18.22% and 52.66% respectively.

Apple’s strategic switch

Disclaimer: I do own a few Apple stocks, but it’s nothing major and this post is just to share my observation of Apple. As a fan of business strategy, I have been a fan of the company and interested in how it performs amid the concerns after the letter to shareholders on 2nd January 2019.

Yesterday, Apple announced their Q1 earnings. A few notable points from their announcement and earning call:

  • Apple no longer reports units sold across their business segments
  • Overall, Apple recorded $84.3 billion, down 5% year over year
  • Products gross margin was 34.3% and Services gross margin was 62.8%.
  • iPhone revenue dropped by 15% year over year
  • Services revenue in Q1 was $10.9 billion, a 19% YoY increase. Service revenue grew from $8 billion in calendar 2010 to $41 billion in calendar 2018, allegedly on pace to reach $50 billion in 2020
  • Mac revenue was up 9% while iPad revenue was up 17%
  • Wearables, home and accessories revenue grew by 33% to $1.8 billion
  • There are 50 million paid Apple Music subscribers, up from 40 million reported in June 2018
  • Apple reported a base of 900 million installed iPhones, out of 1.4 billion active devices in total from Apple
  • There are 360 million paid subscriptions across Services portfolio, an increase of 120 million versus a year ago.
  • This quarter saw 1.8 billion transactions through Apple Pay, twice the volume recorded in the same quarter a year ago
  • In Germany, there are more Apple Pay activations in one week than for Android in one year
  • “Revenue from cloud services continues to grow rapidly with year-over-year revenue up over 40% in the December quarter. And readership of Apple News set a new record with over 85 million monthly active users in the three countries where we’ve launched the United States, the U.K., and Australia”.
  • Ending Q1 2019, Apple cash stands at $244 billion while net cash is at $130 billion

I am a big believer in the notion that business models need to be adapted to the changes in the business environment. No business model could be effective while staying still over the years, especially in the fast-changing world that we live in today. Apple should be no exception and from the numbers reported, it seems to me that they are making changes.  

For years, the bulk of Apple’s business has come from hardware which is differentiated by its exclusive software, especially in the case of iPhone. iPhone revenue has made up approximately 60% of Apple’s turnover. However, the luxury smartphone market has reached the maturation point. iPhone unit sale growth has been either minimal or flat for quarters. Greater China market, which makes up 20% of their iPhone revenue, has boasted challenges to Apple, particularly in 2018. Their iOS isn’t as appealing to Chinese users as it is to users in other parts of the world while competitors such as Huawei and Xiaomi offer alternatives with more or less same features at a lower price. The macroeconomic conditions in China and the trade war aren’t helpful either.

The growth in iPhone revenue has come largely from the price hike which lengthens the upgrade cycle and puts a limit on how much Apple can reach out to potential users. Not everyone can afford those pricey phones. Lowering the prices isn’t the solution. Firstly, Apple is a luxury brand. Lowering prices may leave significant damages to its brand power. Secondly, cheaper phones will require substantial changes to its operations, including supply chain, distribution and Sales & Marketing.

All the signs point to the fact that too much dependence on iPhone is no longer sustainable for Apple moving forward. Enter Services.

Services has been a bright spot amid concerns over iPhone revenue for the past 2 or 3 years, growing at a 20% annual clip. Put that in perspective, their Services revenue this quarter alone is $10.9 billion, almost equal to Netflix’s revenue in 3 quarters in 2018 while Facebook Q3 revenue was about $13 billion. Instead of making money from devices, Apple is betting on users keeping devices longer and paying consistently and more for services. And why not? If the users tend to hold on to devices longer, it makes sense to generate more money from their activities. Plus, margin from Services is substantially higher than that of Products.

And they have been doing a good job. Apple Pay transactions reached 1.8 billion this quarter, 100% YoY increase. Revenue from cloud went up by 40%. The number of paid subscriptions grew by 50% year over year and Apple Music has added 10 million users, reaching the 50 million mark and achieving a 25% growth, since June 2018.

As of June 2017, developers earned $70 billion from App store since its launch in 2008. As of January 2019, the figure went up to $120 billion. Moreover, we are about to see their investment in original content as their streaming service is reportedly going to be live this April.

In summary, Apple seems to be heading to the right direction strategically in my opinion, given the changes in the environment they are operating in. I think the following guidance in the next few quarters will continuously be lower than analyst expectations as the reduction in iPhone revenue may not be sufficiently offset by the growth in Services yet. There is a chance that Apple won’t have the same revenue level as they had at the peak of iPhone-dominated era.

Nonetheless, I think the company is far from the demise alleged by some after a letter to shareholders on 2nd January 2019. They generated $84 billion in revenue and almost $20 billion in net income in 90 days! Instead, the change to be a Services company may be better for the company’s health.