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Apple unveils record $110 billion buyback as results beat low expectations

People look at the new iPhone 15 Pro as Apple’s new iPhone 15 officially goes on sale across China at an Apple store in Shanghai, China September 22, 2023. (REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo/File Photo)
By Stephen Nellis, Max A. Cherney and Yuvraj Malik | REUTERS

Apple’s quarterly results and forecast beat modest expectations on Thursday, as the iPhone maker unveiled a record share buyback program, sending its stock up almost 7% in extended trade.

Apple increased its cash dividend by 4% and authorized an additional program to buy back $110 billion of stock. The buyback is the largest in the company’s history, according to analyst Thomas Monteiro.

Apple’s quarterly revenue fell, but less than analysts had expected, and CEO Tim Cook said revenue growth would return in the current quarter.

The results and guidance suggest the company may be regaining its footing in the smartphone market, despite stiff competition and regulatory challenges.

Apple said fiscal second-quarter revenue fell 4% to $90.8 billion, beating the average analyst estimate of $90.01 billion, according to LSEG data.

For Apple’s current quarter, which ends in June, Cook told Reuters the iPhone maker expects “to grow low-single digits” in overall revenue. Wall Street expected 1.33% revenue growth to $82.89 billion, according to LSEG data.

Long considered a must-own stock on Wall Street, Apple shares have underperformed other Big Tech companies in recent months, falling 10% this year as it struggles with weak iPhone demand and tough competition in China.

Apple expects current-quarter services and iPad revenue to grow by double digits, CFO Luca Maestri told analysts on a conference call. The company expects gross margins of between 45.5% and 46.5% for the fiscal third quarter.

Apple faces a raft of challenges across its business. Smartphone rivals such as Samsung Electronics have introduced competing devices aimed at hosting artificial-intelligence chatbots.

On the regulatory front, Apple’s services business, which contains its lucrative App Store and was one of the few areas of growth in the fiscal second quarter, is under pressure from a new law in Europe. In the United States, the Department of Justice in March accused Apple of monopolizing the smartphone market and driving up prices.

For the fiscal second quarter, iPhone sales fell 10.5% to $45.96 billion, compared with analyst expectations of $46 billion. Apple executives said in February that the year-ago fiscal second quarter had benefited from a $5 billion surge in iPhone sales as the company caught up from supply-chain snarls during pandemic lockdowns.

Excluding that one-time phenomenon, iPhone sales were down only slightly as the Cupertino, California, company’s signature product faces stiff competition. In China, Huawei Technology has gained market share.

Cook said that iPhone sales still experienced “growth in some markets, including China.”

Apple’s revenue decline in China was not as steep as analysts expected, with Greater China sales of $16.37 billion for the fiscal second quarter that ended March 30, down 8.1% and above analyst expectations of $15.59 billion, according to data from Visible Alpha.

Apple has said little about its product plans for artificial intelligence, the technology on which rivals Microsoft and Alphabet’s Google are placing huge bets. The company started ramping up research and development spending last year, and Cook said the company has spent more than $100 billion on R&D in the past five years.

“We continue to feel very bullish about our opportunity in generative AI and we’re making significant investments,” he said. “We’re looking forward to sharing some very exciting things with our customers” at events later this year, Cook said.

Monteiro of said Apple’s massive share buyback can help buy it time and trust with investors as it works to bring AI into its products.

“It’s certainly a great time to resort to this strategy as, on the one hand, the stock remains relatively fairly priced, and, on the other hand, it needs to garner solid support for a structural shift that may very well take several quarters to play out,” he said in a note.

Apple’s quarterly earnings per share were $1.53, above Wall Street estimates of $1.50, according to LSEG data.

Sales in Apple’s services segment, which also represents Apple Music and TV offerings, rose to $23.87 billion, above analyst expectations of $23.27 billion, according to LSEG data.

Analysts had expected Mac sales to decline in the fiscal second quarter, but they instead grew to $7.5 billion, compared with estimates of $6.86 billion, according to LSEG data.

“They were really driven by the strength of the new MacBook Air that’s powered by the M3 chip,” Cook said. “About half of our MacBook Air buyers during the quarter were new to the Mac.”

The company’s sales in the iPad segment declined to $5.56 billion, below analyst expectations of $5.91 billion.

In the company’s wearables segment, which represents sales of Apple Watches and AirPods headphones, sales fell to $7.91 billion, compared with analyst estimates of $8.08 billion, according to LSEG data.

Editor’s Note: Reporting by Stephen Nellis and Max A. Cherney in San Francisco and Yuvraj Malik in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Noel Randewich in Oakland, California; Editing by Matthew Lewis

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