Can China Mobile Boost iPhone Sales?

China Mobile plans to boost its 4G subscriber count and sales of 4G smartphones this year, and Apple is at the forefront to benefit from the aggressive expansion from the telecom giant.

Jul 17, 2014 at 11:00PM

Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) reports third-quarter earnings July 22 and Wall Street projects impressive results driven by strong iPhone sales with the support of China Mobile's (NYSE:CHL) 4G expansion. The Cupertino, Calif., company plans to release larger-screen iPhones later this year, which could sway new and existing 3G customers to China Mobile's more profitable 4G services. The success of China Mobile's 4G network could drive pent-up Chinese demand for Apple's iPhone 6 devices in the second half of the year.

Will Apple beat Wall Street estimates?
The Street forecasts Apple to earn $1.23 per share and revenue of $38 billion for the June quarter. Investors will keep a close eye on the number of iPhone units sold, which represents Apple's main source of revenue and gross margin. Apple sold 43.7 million iPhone handsets last quarter, raking in $26.06 billion in revenue, or 57% of total net sales. The Street estimates iPhone unit sales to reach 35 million, an increase of 12% from 31.2 million units sold a year ago.

Forecast Apple

Investment banks and funds have raised Apple's price target ranging from $102 to $115, or $714 to $805 pre-stock split. Source: CNN Money.

Apple's gained 60% over the past 12 months on strong financial earnings and speculation on the arrival of new smartphones, tablets and computers. The company sports a solid financial position, with a hefty cash balance and low debt levels in comparison to industry averages. Apple has seen constant revenue growth across all geographical segments on a yearly basis, predominantly in Greater China and Japan where sales hit double-digits.

China Mobile's 4G network could further boost iPhone sales
Apple's largest growth opportunity lies in China, where the company's iPhone has grown popular among Chinese consumers. Greater China, including mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong became Apple's third largest market with annual revenues of $25.4 billion. Apple expects Greater China to contribute strong sales numbers going forward as China Mobile advances its 4G network.

China Mobile is using iPhone to draw premium subscribers to its 4G services and recover customers lost to telecom rivals China Unicom and China Telecom. Although 4G customers currently account for approx. 1% of the company's 787.3 million subscribers, they supply about three times annual revenue per user, or ARPU, compared to other customers. China Mobile wants to bring 50 million subscribers to its 4G network by the end of this year through cost competitive 4G data plans.

China Mobile

Chart illustrates the number of new 4G subscribers per month. China Mobile launched 4G services in January, shortly after receiving its 4G license in December 2013. Source: China Mobile.

China Mobile will spend about 41.7 billion Yuan ($6.7 billion) developing 4G technology this year, and roll out more than 500,000 4G base stations, which will cover 340 cities in China. Research firm Canalys forecasts shipments of 140.10 million smartphones with 4G in 2014, and 230.90 million and 318.50 million for the next two years, respectively. China Mobile's aggressive 4G push aims to capitalize on the expected 4G adoption growth.

China Mobile has sold more than 12 million 4G smartphones and plans to sell 100 million 4G smartphones by the end of the year. When China Mobile had 1.34 million 4G subscribers in February, Xi Guohua, the company's Chairman, revealed that most of those 4G users used an iPhone. If a portion of these 100 million smartphones belongs to Apple, the  giant would further distance itself from Samsung in the higher-end of the Chinese smartphone market and see revenues swell in the region.

Bottom line
Investor sentiment over Apple stock has risen after the record-setting March quarter. Coupled with the earnings beat, Apple executives introduced a $90 billion share repurchase, a dividend raise and a 7-for-1 stock split, which all renewed retail and institutional interest in the company's common stock. Apple's growth in China through China Mobile's 4G network could enhance earnings for the second half of the year. With the release of the larger screen iPhone 6 models later this year, pent-up iPhone demand in the China marketplace could benefit Apple and China Mobile's top and bottom lines.

Apple will report third quarter earnings on July 22 after the closing bell and hold a conference call to discuss financial results at 5:00 p.m. ET / 2:00 p.m. PT.

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Christopher DeSousa has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Apple and China Mobile. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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