The All-New, All-Honest Apple

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In January, when reporting its fiscal first-quarter 2013 earnings, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  )  changed how it provides guidance. It stopped giving laughably low estimates, and provided more honest ranges. Looking back over the three earnings releases since then, it's clear that Apple's guidance has, so far, provided fairly useful context for projecting the next quarter's results. On that note, let's take a stab at projecting Apple's fiscal first quarter results based on its just-released guidance.

Way back when
In the past, Apple's guidance wasn't very useful. Take a trip back to calendar 2011. During this period, Apple's revenue beat guidance by an average of 18%, and ranged between beating guidance by as little as 12% and as much as 25%. Since Apple's changed its guidance methodology, however, it has averaged revenue just 4% above guidance, with actual results always falling in a more limited range, outperforming guidance by anywhere from 2% to 6%.

This isn't by chance. The move to more realistic guidance was on purpose. Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer laid out the move to more realistic guidance very clearly in the company's first-quarter 2013 earnings call:

In the past we provided a single-point estimate of guidance that was conservative, that we had reasonable confidence in achieving. This quarter and going forward we're going to provide a range of guidance that we believe that we're likely to report within. No guarantee as forecasting is difficult, but we believe that we will report within that range.

No more "guidance that was conservative." Now we're dealing with "a range of guidance that we believe that we're likely to report within."

Back to reality
Oppenheimer turned out to be right: the guidance is far more useful. Under the new methodology, we can make reasonable estimates for next quarter's revenue, gross margin, and net income. Just take a look at Apple's results versus respective guidance so far under the new methodology -- Apple is actually providing a meaningful foundation for forward-looking estimates.

Guidance midpoints used. Source: Data retrieved from SEC filings.

Guidance midpoints used. Source: Data retrieved from SEC filings.

Based on the patterns of actual results versus guidance shown above, it's reasonable to expect revenue, gross margin, and net income of $58.7 billion, 37.1%, and $12.9 billion, respectively. This compares to Apple's guidance for revenue, gross margin, and net income of $56.5 billion, 37%, and $12.3 billion (guidance midpoints used). Notably, these projections are very close to Apple's guidance, and it's this very fact that makes these projections more reliable than they were in the past.

Cheers to honesty.

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