Apple Profits Skyrocket, But for How Long?

Record sales propel Apple to its highest earnings yet, but some bloggers see trouble ahead

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Fruitful times for Apple, to say the least: On Monday afternoon, the Cupertino, California based computer and electronics company posted record-high sales and an accompanying 47% profit increase for the fourth fiscal quarter of 2009, while the rest of the world dealt with the lingering effects of the recession. Apple's stock value jumped accordingly on Tuesday, to near all-time high levels. The news surprised and amazed bloggers. Many moved to congratulate Apple, but some also cautioned that the company's future wasn't looking nearly as bright, especially in light of new, eager competitors.


  • Taking Optimists By Surprise Several press outlets acknowledge that even the most optimistic Apple investors have been bowled-over by the company's stellar quarterly report. As veteran Apple-reporter Philip Elmer-DeWitt writes for CNN Money: "So much for expectations. Apple (AAPL) blew past them all — its own and those of a crowd of increasingly bullish analysts — by reporting its most profitable quarter ever, earning $1.82 a share on revenue of $9.87 billion for the fourth fiscal quarter of 2009." In a separate post, he details why so many financial analysts underestimated Apple. Over at the New York Times, Brad Stone begins his piece on the news with a phrase that says it all: "Apple, in its recent history, has overcome nearly every obstacle thrown its way. Now it has surpassed another: the burden of high expectations."
  • Proving Naysayers Wrong The Atlantic's own Derek Thompson cordially admits he was mistaken to have ever doubted Apple's potential for continued success. As he puts it,  "In the last few months, I've found a few reasons to rag on Apple. Its computers are too expensive for consumers who only need netbooks. The iPhone risks being overtaken by a suite of free products that allow cheap calling and streaming music. So much for all that. I'd say the moral here is: Don't bet against a company whose products you own and love. For FTC purposes, I'll stop right there."
  • Oh Apple, You're So Modest At Reuters Blogs, Lance Knobel doesn't buy into Apple's conservative growth projections for the next quarter, as he says CEO Steve Jobs has a long history of "messing with the expectations of both competitors and his legions of Apple fanboys. He plays his games in the financial world well." He recognizes that there are lurking threats in the form of Microsoft's hotly-anticipated Windows 7 operating system and the increasingly competitive mobile-market, but brushes them off as ancillary for two reasons: 1. Apple has a "huge advantage" when it comes to mobile thanks to the popularity of it's applications store, and is set to clobber the Chinese market: "The entry into China should also provide a significant boost for the iPhone business. Cook declined to quantify the China effect, but the arrangement with China Unicom calls for the iPhone to launch at 1,000 points of sale. The world’s largest mobile market isn’t yet the largest market for smart phones."


  • Nothing Lasts Forever Yes, yes, the overall picture looks pretty great for Apple, Charles Jade concedes, but when he scrutinizes the Q4 sales figures in detail, he finds that things aren't as rosy as other commentators are making them out to be. For one thing, people have glossed over the fact that iPod sales dropped from 11 million units to 10.2. He says the "inescapable conclusion is that the iPod has peaked," and wonders if the iPhone is headed for a similar fate. "The question now becomes whether iPhone growth is leveling off, like the iPod, or whether the apparent plateau in sales is a pause before continuing the climb with the release of the iPhone in China."
  • Fierce Challenges Loom (Like Dark Storm Clouds Gathering Ominously Over The Horizon) Daily Finance's Alex Salkever congratulates Apple on the company's record performance, but cautions investors to enjoy the success while they can, as Apple isn't kidding about its comparatively modest sales projections for next quarter. As Salkever explains, the competition is heating up around Apple like never before: " (AMZN) has built a strong lead in the eReader market followed by Sony Corp. (SNE). Even the hub of Apple's previous dominance, the drop-dead easy-to-use iTunes music and applications store, is in the cross-hairs of various powerful entities. For sure, Apple will continue to grow. Its products are too good and its marketing too slick. But the low-hanging fruit has been picked and from here on out Apple has much tougher sledding."
  • Beware the Buck At the Daily Telegraph, Robert Cyran makes the interesting case that should the value of the dollar rebound significantly, it could cut into Apple's global revenue. Beginning with the widely-accepted position that Apple's iPhone sales are "cannibalizing those of iPods," Cyran takes readers to Australia, where one can get an 8-gig iPod for cheaper than anywhere in the world. On that note, many Pacific Rim countries had great iPod bargains last year, and nearly all of their currencies have appreciated against the dollar since. This leads Cyran to conclude: "The dollar is overvalued: if a good can be easily shipped over borders, its price should equalise over time or exchange rates should. If the dollar gains, Apple’s overseas revenues could fall."
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