An Early Look at Apple, Inc.'s Second Quarter

Mark your calendar. Apple has announced its earnings date. Here's an early look at what investors can expect.

Daniel Sparks
Daniel Sparks
Apr 3, 2014 at 10:15AM
Technology and Telecom

Mark your calendar. Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) announced its fiscal 2014 second-quarter earnings date on Monday, scheduling the report for Wednesday, April 23, after market close. The report will be followed by a conference call and an analyst question-and-answer session at 5:00 p.m. ET.

Source: Apple.

Save this link to tune into the call.

Speaking of Apple's second-quarter earnings, what can kind of results can investors expect from the report?

Speculating based on guidance
In the past, Apple's guidance wasn't very useful. These days, however, it seems to be a useful benchmark for forecasting actual performance.

To illustrate just how accurate Apple's guidance has been, check out the chart below:

Fiscal quarters shown. Source: SEC filings.

Even when it comes to Apple's important gross profit margin metric, management's guidance has been within 100 basis points of actual results for four quarters in a row.

How did its guidance suddenly become such a reliable benchmark for the company's performance? Isn't Apple known for its extremely cautious guidance?

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First, Apple made a fundamental effort in January 2013 to begin providing more accurate estimates. CFO Peter Oppenheimer explained the change 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.

In other words, Apple said it would finally attempt to be as accurate as possible with its guidance figures. 

Second, it's undoubtedly easier for it to make accurate predictions now that it isn't growing nearly as fast as it was several years ago. So, based on its guidance for Q2, what can investors expect from the world's most valuable tech company?

Second-quarter projections
Apple has guided for revenue between $42 billion and $44 billion and a gross profit margin between 37% and 38%. Since it has reported results at the high end of guidance for both revenue and gross margin in nearly every quarter since management changed the way it provides guidance, it would be reasonable to expect Apple to report about $43.5 billion in revenue and a gross profit margin of about 37.9%.

Compared to the year-ago quarter, this would mean revenue growth would be flat and gross margin may be up 40 basis points. Flat revenue growth is due to unfavorable comparisons, since Apple launched its iPhone lineup in China one quarter early this year compared to last. A gross margin gain would be notable, finally signaling Apple's negative gross profit margin trend may now have officially stabilized.

Gross margin for Q2 2014 is an estimate. Fiscal quarters shown. Source: SEC filings.

All said, flat revenue and an improving gross profit margin should translate to a small single-digit percentage gain in year-over-year net income and a higher single-digit to low double-digit year-over-year EPS gain (EPS should see outsized gains compared to net income thanks to Apple's aggressive share repurchases).

If Apple reports figures like the ones outlined in this article, investors should be pleased. Considering that it faces unfavorable comparisons and the stock is priced for very little growth, EPS growth of about 8% would support the case for Apple's long-term story as a cash cow that continues to grow.