Apple Earnings Tomorrow: The Most Important Item to Watch

Though revenue and earnings are important, here's the most critical item investors should be watching when Apple reports results this week.

Daniel Sparks
Daniel Sparks
Apr 22, 2014 at 12:05PM
Technology and Telecom

Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) will announce second-quarter results after market close on Wednesday. Among the key metrics provided in the report, gross profit margin, earnings per share, revenue, and a possible update to its plan to return cash to shareholders will be closely watched.

But the most important item of all will likely be any forward-looking comments from management. After all, Apple is ultimately a company that succeeds or fails based on product launches -- and all of Apple's major product launches are expected later this year.

iPhone 5c. Apple's business results are tied almost directly to the success of new products. The iPhone accounts for more than half of Apple's revenue and an even larger portion of operating profits.

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The expectations for this quarter are hardly exciting. Most analysts expect flat revenue growth and very small earnings-per-share growth on a year-over-year basis. With no major product launches during the quarter, Apple lacks any driver to move the needle.

That's why when Apple reports results for the second quarter, the Street will be looking to guidance and forward-looking comments to get a better glimpse at Apple's expectations for the rest of the year. Not only has Apple CEO Tim Cook promised new product categories this year, but the well-connected KGI Securities Apple analyst Ming Chi Kuo believes Apple may launch an iWatch as early as Apple's fiscal 2014 fourth quarter -- the third calendar quarter of 2014.

iPad Air. Author's photo. Beyond an iWatch launch, Ming Chi Kuo expects two new iPhone's with larger displays, a new iPad Air and iPad Mini, and a major Apple TV upgrade in 2014.

Guidance for Apple's fiscal third quarter probably won't be very exciting, either. Not only does Apple typically launch new products closer to the end of the year, but also this year's rumor mill has little to say about the quarter. Investors should hope for at least more of the same: at least flat year-over-year revenue growth and high-single-digit EPS growth. That said, given these lackluster expectations for Q3, any upside in guidance could serve as a catalyst for the stock.

And looking beyond Q2, Apple may provide useful comments for analysts and investors in piecing together expectations for the rest of the year. Sure, it's not typical of Apple to outline plans for future products. But it's also not unlike Cook to provide broad updates on the timeline of Apple's unannounced new product categories.

In Apple's fiscal 2014 first quarter earnings call, for instance, Cook reaffirmed that the company is "absolutely" planning to launch new products in entirely new categories by the end of 2014.

As the end of 2014 nears, perhaps investors will even get a better clue of the broad categories Apple is referring to.

With the lack of clarification so far, any comments at all on Apple's new categories will likely be helpful.

Though it might seem silly to probe for such vague statements from Apple management on Wednesday, it's also likely impossible to understate the potential impact new products in new categories could have on Apple's business. Given Apple's historical success of entering new categories, Cook's promise certainly helps improve the risk profile of Apple stock at these levels.

Any new details that give investors more confidence in these new categories could not only serve as a boon for the company's long-term story but also possibly even a reason for some investors to buy Apple shares.