Almost a month after CEO Tim Cook sent a gloomy letter to investors slashing its fourth-quarter revenue forecast by about $7 billion, the iPhone maker slightly topped the lower outlook it articulated in early January. Its EPS came in at $4.18, just above a $4.17 consensus, while quarterly revenue came in at $84.3 billion, just above an $83.97 billion consensus. Still, that was sufficient to send Apple shares up 5% in after hours trading on Tuesday. They were up 6.83% to $165.25 Wednesday.
One full quarter after pulling the plug on a sought-after metric, iPhone unit sales, Apple introduced new data points: One was an installed base of 900 million active iPhones, which Apple's CFO Luca Maestri said will be updated occasionally. Another was gross margins of 62.8% for its growing services business.
Given the backlash Apple received for the iPhone reporting change, the new disclosures are no doubt welcomed by many investors.
"We positively view growth for Apple's active installed base, now 1.4B, which we forecast will continue to support growth for its higher-margin Services offerings," wrote CFRA's Angelo Zino following Apple's earnings. The 1.4 billion total installed base includes all active Apple devices in use, not just iPhones.
The disclosures, combined with the positive results relative to Cook's January letter, may also take some of the heat off Apple's China slump.
Apple's earnings statement reiterated that the fourth-quarter sales period was indeed dramatically worse in China than anyone had hoped -- $13 billion in sales represented a 27% year-over-year drop in the market -- but the negative news around China had already been digested by investors and priced accordingly prior to earnings.
"Apple is one of the biggest ships out there in the market, if not the biggest, and this is not something that gets turned around quickly," said Trip Miller of hedge fund Gullane Capital Partners, speaking of Apple's recent weakness in China. "I think this is a problem they didn't create, so I kind of give them a pass on the China issues."
On Wednesday, Apple executives sought to spotlight the bright points in Apple's China presence -- its services business, as well as the hope that the U.S. and China can arrive at a trade deal soon.
"As we've gotten down in to January, January looks better than December looked. And I think if you were to graph up trade tension it's clearly less in January than it was in December," Cook told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday. "I'm optimistic that the two countries will be able to work things out."
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