Apple Blows Up As iPhone Sales Disappoint

Apple just reported record results from the holiday quarter, and Wall Street is furious.

The reason? Though sales were $54.5 billion, up 18 percent from last year, they were still below what analysts had been expecting. This was the third quarter in a row that Apple has come up short.

Worst of all, sales of the iPhone were weak.

That news sent Apple stock into a nosedive. Shares plunged $54, about 10%, after earnings were reported.

Apple sold 47.8 million iPhone units last quarter, but analysts had been expecting 50 million. “Fifty-two million iPhones or above would be considered a blow-out, and that would be very favorably viewed,” one top analyst, Toni Sacconaghi of Sanford Bernstein told Wall St. Cheat Sheet before earnings came out. “I think 46 [million] or less would certainly be considered disappointing, and then it’s kind of your call on where it comes in between that range.”

Earnings were flat at $13.078 billion versus $13.064 billion in the same period last year. Gross margins were also lower than what some analysts had hoped to see.

Sales of Macs and iPods were down in the quarter. iPad sales were on target, but with Apple even that seems like a disappointment, as the company in recent years has trained everyone to expect massive blowouts.

Future Shock

Looking ahead, Apple told analysts to expect revenue of $41 billion to $43 billion in the current quarter, but that also spooked Wall Street because analysts had been expecting $45 billion. Apple also said it has changed the way it forecasts results, another weird and possibly scary move.

The miss in a holiday quarter adds new urgency to the question that investors have been asking for the past few months: Is the party over for Apple?

Wall Street seems to think so. Apple shares had been surging yesterday and climbed to $514 before the earnings came out, but once the numbers were released the stock began to drop in what TheStreet.com called “panic selling.” Almost immediately shares began to dive, plunging to $460 in after-hours trading. Shares are down 35% from a peak of $705 last September.

Apple fans will say what they always say when Apple falls short of Wall Street expectations, which is that “Apple didn’t miss, Wall Street did.” In other words, investors simply expected too much.

Apple supporters also will point out that the iPhone remains the best-selling smartphone on the Verizon network. Indeed, researcher Kantar Worldpanel just put out numbers showing Apple still controls the US smartphone market, with 51.2% market share versus 44% for Android and 2.6% for Windows Phone.

Where's The Innovation?

Still, it seems Apple has hit a wall. It’s not just about sales and earnings, but also about innovation. It’s been years since Apple did something truly revolutionary. Rumors of Apple getting into the TV market continue to swirl, but so far it’s all just rumors.

Even in core products Apple doesn’t seem to have any big plans, beyond making incremental changes to products. In a call with analysts after earnings came out, Apple CEO Tim Cook said the company had no plans to build an iPhone with a larger screen to keep up with competitors who are pushing big-screen phones. “We put lot of thinking into screen size, and we believe we have picked right one,” Cook says.

In other words, everything's great, there's nothing to worry about, no need for change, full steam ahead. As Cook was saying this, his stock was collapsing.