Apple earnings preview

Apple has been busy of late launching updates to its key products and reports for its fiscal fourth quarter after the market closes on Monday evening.

Since Apple last reported, back in July, the company has released two new versions of its iPhone handsets (the flagship iPhone 5S and the slightly cheaper iPhone 5C), a new iPad (the iPAd Air), and a new iPad Mini, alongside operating system upgrades, new software and upgraded models of its various Macs.

That’s a lot of new products, but the new iPads are yet to ship, so as usual, it will be iPhone sales that investors will be primarily concerned with, especially for the new models. A big question mark hangs over the 5C regarding whether its lower price-point has been able to entice price-sensitive customers, with some reports suggesting that demand for the high-end iPhone 5S may have outstripped that of its plastic-backed kin.

When Apple reported in July, it announced sales of 31 million iPhones for the quarter from April to June. Sales for Apple’s fourth quarter in 2012 were around 27 million units. According to a survey of analysts conducted by Fortune, iPhone sales for Q4 2013 are expected to be around 33 million.

Apple announced back in September that it had sold 9 million iPhones in the first weekend of release for the 5S and 5C, which was a new record for the firm. Based on that I would expect the numbers for Q4 to comfortably beat those for Q3, and makes me think the 33 million predicted by Fortune’s survey is a little conservative.

There are worries over whether Apple is able to keep supply in touch with demand, with some evidence of constrained supply for the iPhone 5S, while the late release date of the iPad mini with its new retina screen (it doesn’t ship until late November) suggests that there may be supply limitations in this area as well. I would therefore hope to hear Tim Cook lay out how he hopes to address supply issues going forward.

The consensus of expectation on Wall Street is that Apple will announce earnings of $7.92 per share on revenue of $37 billion. That would be a fall in earnings from a year ago, but an increase in revenue of around 4% and is likely to stoke concerns about where Apple’s earnings growth is going to come from. That said, this quarter will not tell the whole story, with bigger sales figures set to fall in the current quarter, with the availability of all its newly-launched products in the run-up to Christmas.

Even taking that into account, investors will be hoping for a mention of any new, revolutionary product that might jumpstart Apple’s growth once again. Having just recently held a big media event for the new iPads, however, it would seem unlikely that Tim Cook will announce anything specific in this area.

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