Apple Inc. Earnings: More iPhone Sales Needed

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Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s fourth fiscal quarter earnings report is on the books, and Wall Street’s happy this morning. Shares of the company’s stock climbed by as much as 2% in early trading this morning. analyst Warren Ruhomon tells ValueWalk that overall, he’s happy with the results, although they are lacking in one area.

Apple posts a “clear beat”

In a report last night, Ruhomon said, “Apple has devised a means of knocking the ball out of the park with its fourth-quarter earnings.”

He noted that Wall Street wanted to see earnings per share of around $1.30, and Apple posted earnings per share of $1.42. Net income was $8.47 billion for the quarter that ended on Sept. 27, compared to $7.51 billion in the same quarter a year ago.

Apple needed stronger iPhone numbers

Apple also managed to meet Wall Street’s expectations for iPhone sales, reporting that it sold 39.27 million of them during the September quarter. The high end of the company’s guidance was $40 million, and analysts were hoping for a result that was close to that, but perhaps not close enough.

“My view is that Apple needed a stronger beat in this metric to impress the market—closer to 40m,” the analyst wrote. “Since we don’t have that, I metaphorically ‘subtract one point.'”

Apple anticipates Carl Icahn’s push

He points out that one big surprise is that Apple management said they had already started their share repurchase program back up before activist investor Carl Icahn wrote another letter pushing for more buybacks, which he sent on Oct. 9. Apple reported $17 billion worth of shares during the September quarter.

With those buybacks, Apple has paid back $45 billion to shareholders so far this calendar year, including dividends. CEO Tim Cook said they “saw an opportunity to be very aggressive” and really put their “foot on the gas” for share repurchases.

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Apple not taking orders from shareholders

Ruhomon believes Apple is still continuing its share repurchasing program, citing Cook’s “open-ended, retrospective nature of Apple’s comments on the share re-purchase, plus the all but oblique reference to the obvious catalyst for the buyback—pressure from Icahn.” However, he thinks the company wants to emphasize that it won’t allow any shareholders, even Icahn, to bully it into doing anything.

“Apple is signalling that it will continue to conduct share buybacks under its own volition and on its own terms (at least it would like to retain the illusion of that) and it may continue to only disclose buybacks after the fact,” the analyst said.

Estimating Apple’s future share buybacks

As of the end of September, Apple had about $165 billion in cash. Ruhomon believes Apple could still “comfortably” completed five or more share repurchases of the one it just did. And that even assumes Apple didn’t increase its free cash flow during the September quarter, although it’s obvious that the company did.

The analyst suggests that investors may be more pleased about the share repurchasing activity than they are about other aspects of Apple’s report. He noted that Apple stock surpassed the “psychological $101.12 marker,” which is where the company’s split-adjusted shares has been capped for over two years. In addition, he pointed out that Apple stock didn’t even pass that mark after the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus unveilings last month.

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