Apple Shares Jump on Excitement for Next iPhone

Story image for Apple from New York Times

Apple reported impressive profit and revenue growth in its just-completed fiscal third quarter, helping send its shares up 5% in morning trading on Wednesday.

But most Wall Street analysts were more focused on the bread crumbs Apple offered about expectations for its next line of iPhones expected to be announced in September. And on that score, the news was very good indeed. Apple said it expected to pull in as much as $52 billion of sales for the upcoming quarter, well ahead of Wall Street’s $49 billion average forecast from before the earnings announcement.

Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty pointed to the strong revenue forecast and what she termed confident-sounding remarks by Apple executives. “Strong results and guidance clear the path for AAPL shares to outperform in the early innings of an iPhone supercycle,” Huberty wrote.

Longtime Apple follower Toni Sacconaghi at Bernstein Research was a bit more cautious. By his read, updated basic models, what he dubs the iPhone 7S line, will be available on time in September. But he gave only a 10% chance that Apple will have enough stock on hand to meet demand for a rumored new highly-desirable, high-end model, perhaps called the iPhone 8, at a higher price. He sees a 50% chance that the high end model won’t reach customers at all until October or later and a 40% chance of “limited quantities” in September. Rumors of a possible delay have been emanating from Apple’s Asian supply chain for months.

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“Apple’s Q3 results were strong and broad-based, particularly since they came on the eve of Apple’s potentially biggest iPhone introduction in years, and at the outset of new software offerings,” Sacconaghi wrote. “That said, we didn’t learn much about the iPhone 8 and its timing–other than the iPhone business itself is stronger going into the cycle that most had thought, and that new offerings won’t all be materially delayed.”

Such delays for a higher end model, likely with an OLED display, won’t hurt Apple much, according to J.P. Morgan analyst Rod Hall, who also pointed to Apple’s strong revenue guidance. Many customers will snap up new LCD-screen models while other wait for the OLED model to arrive.

“We believe this strength relates to the iPhone and probably to the two new LCD models which we believe are likely to begin contributing meaningfully in September while the OLED ‘iPhone Pro’ model looks more likely to materially impact December quarter numbers,” Hall wrote.

Still, some analysts saw an much less impressive picture for the upcoming iPhones. Andy Hargreaves at KeyBanc Capital Markets said the rate of iPhone sales from the past quarter were about in line with the prior four years. To Hargreaves that indicated no large build of customer demand for the upcoming new iPhones.

“While it is generally positive that Apple continues to sell iPhones at a healthy clip, the stable demand pattern suggests pent-up demand for the new iPhone is not building,” he wrote. “This raises questions about the ability of Apple’s new iPhones to drive the outsized upgrade rates and growth in new users that consensus estimates anticipate.”

Apple sells many things besides iPhones of course. The company reported its first increase in iPad sales in more than three years and also showed a strong 22% jump in revenue from services including sales of digital media, subscriptions to Apple Music, and purchases of online storage space on iCloud. And Mac computer sales rose modestly even as the overall PC market contracted. For Barclays analyst Mark Moskowitz, those three areas could also bolster Apple’s (AAPL, +4.73%) share price.

“Overall, these three factors could be the bigger reason for the brighter Sep-Q outlook,” he wrote. “In such a case, we think it is important for investors to consider the outlook may not be rosy just because of the next iPhone.”