Apple iPhone 4th-quarter sales beat estimates

Apple Inc. sold more iPhones than Wall Street had expected in the latest quarter, and the company forecast higher-than-expected revenue for the critical holiday-shopping season.

Company's annual revenue falls for the 1st time since 2001

Apple says it sold 45.51 million iPhones in the three months ended Sept. 24, beating the average analysts' estimate of 44.8 million, according to research firm FactSet StreetAccount. (Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

Apple Inc. posted a third quarter in a row of declining iPhone sales on Tuesday, but beat Wall Street targets for its flagship product and forecast higher-than-expected revenue for the critical holiday shopping season.

Apple executives said demand for the new iPhone 7, the company's best hope to revive flagging sales, was strong, despite fiscal fourth-quarter revenue dips in China and the Americas, its two most important markets.

"We couldn't be more excited about the customer response to the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 7 Plus," Apple CEO Tim Cook said, according to CNBC.

Chief financial officer Luca Maestri said it was "impossible to know" if there was any effect yet from rival Samsung Electronics halting production of its fire-prone Galaxy Note 7 phones earlier this month.

Apple said it sold 45.51 million iPhones in the three months ended Sept. 24, beating the average analysts' estimate of 44.8 million, according to research firm FactSet StreetAccount. Revenue fell nine per cent to $46.85 billion US, a touch behind Wall Street targets, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

"Apple didn't have a great (fourth quarter) as iPhones, Macs, China, the U.S. and what appears to be Watch were down," said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.

Revenue from Greater China, once seen as Apple's next growth engine, fell almost 30 per cent in the quarter, after dropping 33 per cent in the preceding period. Revenue from Greater China doubled in the year-earlier quarter.

Lower margins seen

Apple also forecast gross profit margins slightly behind Wall Street targets, projecting 38 to 38.5 per cent, versus expectation of closer to 39 per cent, said Mariann Montagne, senior investment analyst and portfolio manager at Gradient Investments.

"I think people were a bit surprised that they were so conservative there," said Montagne, whose firm holds Apple shares.

Shares of the world's most valuable publicly traded company fell 2.6 per cent to $115.10 in after-hours trading.

"We have to keep in mind that the stock has had a pretty nice run over the past ... few months now," Troy Crandall, equity analyst at financial services firm Raymond James, told CBC News.

The stock hit a 12-month low of $89.47 in May but has been on an uptrend since then as investor confidence returned.

Slowing smartphone market

Apple forecast revenue of between $76 billion and $78 billion for the current quarter. Analysts, on average, had expected $75.08 billion.

That meant annual revenue fell for the first time since 2001, highlighting the slowdown in the smartphone market as well as intensifying competition, particularly from Chinese rivals.

Apple is still optimistic about its business in China, CFO Maestri said in an interview with Reuters. While gross domestic product growth in the country has slowed, the economy is growing nonetheless, the middle class is expanding and smartphone ownership remains low, he said.

Maestri said high demand for Apple's newest iPhones made the company confident about results in the first quarter.

Success depends on iPhone

The company's net income fell to $9.01 billion, or $1.67 per share in the quarter from $11.12 billion, or $1.96 per share, a year earlier. That beat the average estimate of $1.66 per share.

Apple's fortunes are strongly tied to the success of the iPhone, which accounts for two-thirds of its revenue.

Analysts, on average, expect the company to sell 75.8 million iPhones in the current quarter, according to FactSet.

Apple launched its iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus models two weeks before the end of the quarter. Unusually, though, it did not release first-weekend sales figures, saying this data had become more of a reflection of supply than demand.

The fourth-quarter figures also include sales of the 6S and 6S Plus models as well as the smaller and cheaper iPhone SE.

Apple should have benefited from an extra week of sales in the latest quarter compared with last year.

Looking ahead

Crandall said attention is already shifting ahead to next year, when a new iPhone model is expected.

"It's going to be their 10th anniversary iPhone, and rumours are already circulating about how fantastic this phone is supposedly going to be," he said.

With lots of older iPhones still in use, and Apple only making comparatively minor upgrades to recent versions of the phone, users may be holding off for a big revamp, Crandall said.

"The next iPhone could be what we'd call a megacycle, and that would be very postive for Apple," he said.

with files from CBC News