Apple sales top $100 billion, but fall short of estimates

David Goldman

In the past three months, Apple set new sales and profit records for the quarter and wrapped up a fiscal year in which it blew past the $100 billion mark. It sold an all-time record number of Macs and iPads.

It sounds strange, but this is what a bad quarter for Apple looks like.

Despite those records, Apple’s revenue and earnings this quarter fell far short of Wall Street’s forecasts. Those numbers disappointed investors expecting more, and shares of Apple fell 7% after hours. At the market’s close Tuesday, the stock had finished regular trading at an all-time high of $422.24.

The Cupertino, Calif.-based company said its net income for the quarter rose to $6.6 billion, or $7.05 per share, up 54 percent from a year earlier. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had forecast earnings of $7.39 per share.

Apple’s sales rose 39 percent to $28.3 billion, but badly missed analysts’ estimates of $29.7 billion. The company’s sales for its full fiscal year, which ended Sept. 24, were $108.2 billion — a giant leap ahead of the $65.2 billion Apple raked in last year, but short of the $109.5 billion Wall Street forecast.

Here’s a consolation prize: Apple again edged out Exxon Mobil in the tight race to be the stock market’s most valuable company in the world.

Despite missing analysts’ estimates, Apple’s executives remained positive.

“We are thrilled with the very strong finish of an outstanding fiscal 2011,” Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, said in a prepared statement. “Customer response to iPhone 4S has been fantastic, we have strong momentum going into the holiday season, and we remain really enthusiastic about our product pipeline.”

Apple said it sold more than 17 million iPhones in the past quarter, falling short of the previous two quarters’ sales figures, as some consumers held out in anticipation of the new iPhone 4S. That’s still impressive, however, considering the iPhone 4 had already been on sale for more than a year during the past quarter. Apple said Monday that it had already sold 4 million iPhone 4S devices in the first weekend of sales.

On a conference call with analysts, Cook said he’s confident Apple will set an all-time record for iPhones this quarter, calling demand “off the charts.” Cook noted that the number of people using the new device’s Siri personal assistant feature has been “amazing.”

The iPad and Mac both set sales records during the quarter. IPad sales rose to 11.1 million, and Mac sales soared 4.89 million — the first time Apple has even sold more than 4 million Macs in a quarter. A recent Gartner survey of personal computer shipments showed that Apple’s third-place PC market share is growing, nibbling away at No. 2 Dell.

The iPod continued to slump, with sales falling 27 percent to just 6.6 million units. That represented the fewest number of iPods Apple has sold in six years.

And, in a reversal of its usual approach, Apple actually encouraged Wall Street’s analysts to increase their expectations for the current quarter.

Peter Oppenheimer, Apple’s chief financial officer, said he expects the company to produce sales of $37 billion and earnings per share of about $9.30 during the current quarter, which ends in December.

Apple’s outlook is typically ultra-conservative — this is the first time in recent memory that Oppenheimer’s forecast exceeded Wall Street’s own projections. Which may be a sign that Apple — now under Tim Cook’s leadership — is trying to bring its own guidance more in line with reality.

This quarter, Apple beat its own sales forecast by just 5 percent and topped its profit projection by 9 percent. Last quarter, in a more typical move, Apple trounced its own lowballed sales forecast by 24 percent and its profit forecast by 54 percent.

Apple also finished the quarter with an ungodly $81.6 billion in cash, which the company said it intends to hang onto for possible acquisitions or unexpected bumps in the road.

“We’re not one to do silly things with cash,” Cook said. “With that said, I’m not religious about holding cash or not holding cash — I’m religious about a lot of things, but not that. We’ll do with it what’s in the best interest of Apple.”

Last week, rival Google reported better-than-expected financial results, as the company continues to pursue a $12.5 billion purchase of Motorola Mobility in its attempt to battle Apple in the handset business. Google’s Android mobile software has already eclipsed the iPhone in smartphone market share, though Apple has maintained a dominance of the tablet market.

Another chief competitor, Microsoft, is set to report its earnings and sales on Thursday.