Did Apple Sell 45 Million iPhones Last Quarter?

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Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) reports fiscal third-quarter results after markets close Tuesday. The company’s third quarter is typically its slowest because iPhone sales have peaked and consumers are waiting for the company to announce new models in (usually) late September.

Given the recent collapse in the tech sector (think Facebook, Intel and Twitter), a miss by Apple could increase the carnage. Even a narrow beat might not be enough to lift investors’ outlook for the sector.

The consensus FactSet revenue estimate for the quarter is $52.3 billion, a jump of 15% year over year. The consensus earnings per share estimate is $2.16, nearly 30% higher than 2017’s third-quarter EPS of $1.67.

iPhone sales are expected to reach 42 million in the quarter, with an average selling price of $693 per unit, up from $606 in the year-ago quarter. Apple sold 52.2 million iPhones in its second fiscal quarter, an increase of just 3% year over year. Estimated third-quarter sales show a year-over-year gain of a shade under 2.5%. The average selling price in the second quarter was $728.

The good thing, from Apple’s point of view, is that analysts aren’t expecting much from iPhone sales, and reporting sales of closer to 45 million would offer the kind of upside surprise investors and analysts reward with higher share prices and price targets.

While analysts are also expecting Apple’s services business to grow by nearly 20% to around $9.2 billion, that represents only about a third as much revenue as the iPhone. Loup Ventures analyst Gene Munster has outlined a new paradigm for Apple that includes a growing services business as a significant revenue driver:

The new paradigm related to investing in Apple, which is 2-3 years from becoming consensus, is defined by a stable iPhone business, a growing Services segment, a faster-than-expected capital return program, and the introduction of new products.

What does this add up to for the race between Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) and Apple to be first past the post with a $1 trillion market cap? Amazon’s blowout quarter lifted the consensus price target on the stock to a level that would drive the company to a trillion-dollar valuation if it’s met. Apple’s share buybacks have made it more difficult for the company, and its share count is expected to be lower still when it reports results on Tuesday.

Apple stock closed Friday at $190.98, down about 1.7%, in a 52-week trading range of $148.13 to $195.96. The consensus 12-month price target on the stock is $203.22 with a range of $164 to $245.

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