Apple Bruised By Weaker Outlook, iPhone Unit Sales Blackout, Despite Solid Q4

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Apple Bruised By Weaker Outlook, iPhone Unit Sales Blackout, Despite Solid Q4

Apple Inc. (AAPL) shares are set for their biggest decline in more than two years Friday after the world’s biggest tech company posted stronger-than-expected earnings for its fiscal fourth quarter but said slowing growth in emerging markets and a stronger U.S. dollar would likely mean holiday sales would fall shy of Wall Street’s forecasts.

The group also rattled investors when it said it would no longer provide detailed numbers for the sale of it individual products, such as iPhones and mac computers, meaning investors will no longer be able to calculate their average selling price, a key metric used to gauge the company’s profitability. The decision to scrap that guidance, as well as forecasts for December quarter sales of around $91 billion over the three months ending in December, overshadowed a stronger-than-expected September quarter which saw better-than-expected earnings of $2.91 per share and group revenues of $62.9 billion.

“Starting with the December quarter, we will no longer be providing unit sales data for iPhone, iPad and Mac,” CFO Luca Maestri told investors on a conference call late Thursday. “As we have stated many times, our objective is to make great products and services that enrich people’s lives, and to provide an unparalleled customer experience so that our users are highly satisfied, loyal and engaged.”

“As we accomplish these objectives, strong financial results follow,” he added. “As demonstrated by our financial performance in recent years, the number of units sold in any 90-day period is not necessarily representative of the underlying strength of our business.”

Apple shares were marked 6.08% lower in pre-market trading Friday, indicating an opening bell price of $208.71 each, the lowest since August 15 and a move that takes the market value of the Cupertino, Calf.-based group below the $1 trillion mark for the first time since it became the first-ever company to surpass that valuation on August 2.

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Apple said it shifted 46.9 million iPhones over the three months ending in September, a figure that was largely in-line with analysts’ forecasts but was flattered by a much stronger-than-expected average selling price of $793, which topped the $751 consensus and rose 28.3% from the same period last year.

Services revenue, which includes App Store, Apple Music, iCloud Storage and Apple Pay sales, rose 27% to $10 billion but slowed from the 31% recorded in the June quarter, an easing that may have been affected by the slower pace of iPhones sales that reduces the so-called installed base.

“We believe that the new iPhones are boosting ASPs nicely, but unit growth is still lacking,” said BMO Capital Markets’ Tim Long. “We are skeptical about the sustainability of ASP increases as a growth driver. Management will no longer provide unit numbers, and some investors may be disappointed by the lower level of disclosures.”

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