Apple will announce its fiscal Q4 results for the quarter that ended on September 30 this coming Tuesday, October 27, and ahead of that Fortune's
Philip Elmer-DeWitt has again rounded up some Wall Street and independent analysts and collected their respective guesses on how many iPhones Apple sold
-- for most analysts, nearly the only Apple sales number that matters. The result is that the pundits believe Apple will have yet another record quarter, with sales up 24 percent year-over-year.
The September results would normally be the worst quarter for iPhones, except that Apple generally makes the new models available during the last days of the quarter, goosing what would otherwise be a decline as buyers wait for the new model. This year, there will be an extra China factor in the equation, as the region had iPhones available for sale along with the first wave of countries to sell it for the first time. For opening weekend, China was thought to have added some three million sales to the otherwise-flat growth, jumping to 13 million units
compared to last year's 10 million.
Naturally the September quarter is not as important for the company has the upcoming December quarter, since that is always the quarter with the most iPhone sales, and a leading indicator of how the smartphones will do for the rest of the year. It will also be the one-year anniversary of the first full quarter Apple sold the larger-sized units that are the hallmark of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s lines, and some analysts believe that Apple will struggle to match last year's blowout Christmas quarter sales of 74.5 million units, since the novelty of large-sized iPhones has now worn off.
The analysts Elmer-DeWitt polled, however, seem bullish on what Wall Street calls "the tough compare" -- how much, if any, growth over 2014 Apple will see this Christmas. The Wall Street analysts believe sales will be roughly flat, while the independents predict Apple will easily, if not massively, top last year's number. Estimates for the Christmas quarter range from around 75 million units (Wall Street consensus) to 81 million (independents).
Guesstimates for Tuesday's result range from 45 million to 51 million unit sold, though only half of the opening weekend of iPhone 6s model sales will be included in the September results. Noted analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI made a prediction that falls into the middle of that range, predicting 48.5 million units sold for fiscal Q4, but -- in contrast to most others -- believes Apple will sell fewer iPhones this Christmas than it did last year, and that the trend will continue into the new year.
Apple's own guidance for fiscal Q4 predicts revenue between $49 billion and $51 billion, with gross margins around 39 percent. Analysts will also be looking carefully to see if the company meets or exceeds its own estimates. Ming-Chi also offered an assessment of iPad sales, saying that Apple would see continued year-over-year drops, but only modest ones, in iPad shipments over the previous quarter and the current one, but that profit margins on the line -- particularly those of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro -- could help offset the impact of falling sales.
He told clients that "the worst is over" for iPad sales drops, now that an initial iPad Pro display supply issue has been resolved. For the holiday quarter, Ming-Chi predicts sales could reach as high as 15.5 million units, but said that calendar 2016 sales would drop compared to 2015 by around 16 percent.
In the short-term, he is predicting both iPad and Mac sales be down from the year-ago quarter in Apple's Q4 results, with the former down 9.5 percent and the latter down a more modest 1.5 percent -- though he noted that the company's latest 12-inch Retina MacBook was already the second-highest selling model, behind the 13.3-inch Retina model. Ming-Chi has also raised his estimate of Apple Watch sales slightly, to between 3.5 million and four million units (up from 3.3 million units), though this does not include an estimate for the holiday quarter this year. Significantly, he warns that if Apple does not issue upbeat guidance on growth for the holiday quarter compared to last year, shares of AAPL may fall to what he calls a "good entry point," or buying opportunity.