An Apple Exec's Comments About iPhone XR Sales Only Tell Us So Much
TheStreet

Though arguably encouraging, an Apple (AAPL) exec's remarks about iPhone XR sales don't necessarily refute prior reports about order cuts and/or softer-than-expected demand.

On Wednesday afternoon, CNET published an article in which Apple product marketing VP Greg Joswiak was quoted as saying the XR has "been [Apple's] most popular iPhone each and every day" since it became available on Oct. 26th. CNET added that when Joswiak was subsequently asked about reported iPhone production cuts and iPhone demand in general, he declined to comment and reiterated his prior remarks about XR sales.

Apple shares, hit hard recently by iPhone sales worries (particularly for the XR), closed up 3.8% yesterday amid a 3% gain for the Nasdaq. They also opened higher on Thursday, but soon reversed course and are down 0.8% as of the time of this article, as the Nasdaq rises fractionally.

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To an extent, remarks about the XR ($749 U.S. starting price) being the best-selling iPhone model "each and every day" are encouraging, given how negative a lot of recent commentary and reporting about XR demand has been. But at the same time, even with all of this negative coverage, it's far from surprising that the XR would be the best-selling iPhone model since its launch.

Joswiak appears to be comparing sales of the iPhone XR to those of the iPhone XS (starts at $999) and XS Max (starts at $1,099) individually, rather than comparing XS sales to combined XS and XS Max sales. As a result, they shouldn't be taken to mean that the XR is outselling Apple's latest flagship iPhones overall.

Also worth remembering: The XR launched five weeks after the XS and XS Max, which began reaching consumers' hands on Sep. 21. Thus a lot of initial XS/XS Max demand was met before the XR became available.

Meanwhile, we've seen multiple reports about iPhone XR order cuts, with The Wall Street Journal stating XR orders had been cut "by up to a third." We've also seen several guidance cuts from Apple suppliers that arrived not long after the XR became available. These included cuts from RF chipmaker Qorvo (QRVO) , which is believed to have much stronger XR exposure than XS exposure, and from display panel maker Japan Display, supplies panels for LCD iPhones such as the XR but not OLED iPhones such as the XS and XS Max.

In addition, the iPhone XR's price was recently cut in Japan, reportedly on account of subsidies provided by Apple to Japanese carriers, and Apple recently improved its trade-in offers for both the XR and XS. Also, the WSJ has reported that Apple has restarted production for the iPhone X, which had been discontinued in September.

Even if Joswiak's comments don't contradict much of what has been reported about the XR in recent weeks, I think the 20%-plus decline that Apple's shares have seen since early October looks excessive. While there have been some reports suggesting iPhone XS/XS Max sales have cooled following a strong start, demand for Apple's costliest iPhones appears to be holding up relatively well. And perhaps more importantly, a strategic decision that seems to be weighing on near-term iPhone sales -- launching a cheaper model that features notable hardware compromises, rather than simply keeping last year's flagship iPhone(s) available at a moderate discount -- can be easily reversed next year.

With that said, however, Joswiak's remarks serve as a good case study for paying close attention to what is and isn't being said when a company chooses to respond to negative headlines.

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