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A Sneak Peek at Apple Inc.'s Q4 Earnings Report

By Ashraf Eassa - Oct 7, 2017 at 7:37AM

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Here are some things investors should listen for on Apple's upcoming earnings call, scheduled for Nov. 2.

As spotted by the various Apple (AAPL 0.96%)-focused sites, Apple just updated its investor-relations website to say that it will be announcing its earnings results for the fourth and final quarter of the current fiscal year on Nov. 2 -- a day before the company's iPhone X becomes available for sale.

Here are two things investors should keep a close eye on.

iPhone 8 and 8 Plus commentary

Apple's iPhone 8 and 8 Plus went up for pre-order on Sept. 15, and the phones started showing up on customers' doorsteps on Sept. 22, just a week after preorders opened.

In sharp contrast to what investors and customers observed in previous years, neither the iPhone 8 nor the 8 Plus has been particularly hard to get hold of through Apple's online store. As of this writing on Oct. 2, an iPhone 8 or 8 Plus ordered through Apple's website will ship in three to five business days.

Apple's iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus.

Image source: Apple.

There's clearly demand for these phones -- I'm enjoying my iPhone 8 Plus immensely -- but it's also widely accepted that many iPhone enthusiasts are waiting for the iPhone X to arrive before buying new phones. So one thing investors ought to listen for is commentary regarding the sales velocity and momentum of the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, as these phones are still likely to make up a substantial portion of Apple's iPhone shipments over the coming year.

For Apple to succeed, these phones also need to succeed, though by a less aggressive measure of success compared with last year's models. Apple is unlikely to offer a detailed comparison of how well the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are selling this year relative to how their predecessors, the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, did last year, though. Such a comparison wouldn't truly be apples-to-apples.

iPhone X preorder and supply-to-demand commentary

Although the first iPhone X devices won't make it into customers' hands until a day after Apple releases its financial results and holds the accompanying conference call with analysts, Apple will have been taking preorders for almost seven days by the time the call happens. That means Apple will have an extremely good idea of how demand for the iPhone X is tracking.

Apple's iPhone X.

Image source: Apple.

Investors shouldn't get their hopes up for any concrete preorder figures, but I'd be willing to bet quite a lot that the initial preorder activity will directly inform the financial guidance Apple issues for the first fiscal quarter of 2018. So, what I'll be listening to is commentary about the strength of preorder demand relative to Apple's own expectations.

If Apple management gushes about how the preorder demand is far exceeding the company's expectations, and we know those expectations are not modest, then I'd take that as an overwhelmingly positive sign. I would, however, keep an eye out for reports that Apple is upping its component orders and build plans to confirm that enthusiasm.

If Apple management ducks the question or responds with anything less than sheer enthusiasm, then I'd be inclined to be more cautious.

And, finally, I'd listen for commentary with respect to supply and demand. Apple's financial guidance for the quarter might not tell the entire demand story. If Apple guides to modest year-over-year revenue growth, I would listen closely for commentary about Apple's ability to meet demand, expected changes in channel inventory for the quarter, and even potentially a teaser about the quarter after next.

Apple doesn't guide more than a quarter out, but if the guidance that's issued come earnings time is lukewarm because of expected supply issues, then I would expect Apple to provide additional color to calm investors.

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