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Earnings Outlook: Apple earnings: iPhone optimism hasn’t changed Apple’s downward trajectory

From a look at Apple Inc.’s stock, you might think that Wall Street was expecting something big from the company’s coming earnings report.

Apple shares AAPL, +1.00% keep roaring higher, buoyed by talk of momentum for the company’s new iPhones and services offerings as well as indications that the smartphone giant might be on a better trajectory in China. The stock notched yet another record high Friday, its fifth over the past six trading sessions, and it’s by far the best performer in the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +0.49% for 2019.

Consensus estimates, however, don’t back up all the supposed enthusiasm about Apple’s fiscal fourth-quarter report, scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. Analysts surveyed by FactSet see the company posting revenue of $63 billion, nearly flat from $62.9 billion a year ago. The report will cap off a fiscal year in which Apple’s earnings and revenue are both expected to decline from a year earlier, which has happened at Apple only once since 2001.

The fiscal fourth-quarter numbers will only contain a little more than a week’s worth of iPhone 11 sales, so the big test for Apple is in its outlook, which should show how the company expects its devices to perform over the holidays. Analysts are calling for a December-quarter sales bump over last year, but overall estimates haven’t budged for the period since the end of July.

Still, Morgan Stanley’s Katy Huberty, the most bullish analyst on the stock, says Apple doesn’t even have to do much with its earnings report to sustain its share-price trajectory.

Opinion: Apple iPhone event reveals a dramatic change in strategy

“We believe Apple remains under-owned by investors despite the 15% gain since last reporting earnings and therefore if Apple is able to post in-line September-quarter results and December-quarter guidance then the stock can sustain momentum into year-end, barring any major shocks to global markets,” she wrote. “Ultimately investors appear to be owning the stock for the coming 5G iPhone cycle and ramping new services so even in the scenario of light December-quarter guidance, we expect inflows to the name in early 2020 as Apple’s multiple typically expands in the nine to 12 months ahead of major product cycles.”

What to expect