Apple China sales slide further

Apple China sales have fallen for the fourth consecutive quarter, but the tech giant is putting on a brave face, buoyed by rising global revenue.

Apple sold 78.29 million iPhones in the quarter ended December 31, up from 74.78 million last year, marking the first quarterly growth in iPhone sales in 12 months. It was as many as 2 million handsets more than analysts were predicting.

But revenue in Greater China fell 11.6 per cent to US$16.23 billion as the iPhone came under heavy pressure from a raft of locally produced Android-based handsets with similar or higher specification and half the price.

Apple executives put a positive spin on the China problem. “We were encouraged by our performance in China because it was clearly an improvement over the last couple of quarters,” CFO Luca Maestri said in a conference call. “In Mainland China in particular, our revenue was flat and actually grew in constant currency terms.”

Neil Saunders, MD of GlobalData Retail, (formerly Conlumino), said both the new model iPhones and MacBook Pros helped deliver global growth for Apple: iPhone sales rose by 5 per cent in terms of units and revenues, and Mac sales were up by 7 per cent in revenue, and by 1 per cent in units.

“In our view, the new MacBook Pros have a niche appeal, but the much higher price points helped to inflate sales. That said, given there is a more limited market for this fairly expensive kit, we question how much of a contribution to growth the new laptops will make over the remainder of this fiscal year.”

Saunders said the first quarter results were a fairly positive note for the company, “finally pulling out of the tailspin of lower sales which have dogged it over the past year”.

“However, the revenue uplifts have come off the back of fairly soft prior year comparatives, especially so in the North American market. Even so, the performance will come as a relief to Apple.”

Services key to future

Apple CEO Tim Cook said he expects revenue from services – which include the App Store, Apple Pay and iCloud – to double in the next four years after an 18 per cent improvement to to US$7.17 billion in the last quarter. Pokemon Go and subscription revenues had driven the growth.

Saunders notes that in monetary terms services is now bigger than iPad sales and is almost as big as Mac sales.

“Encouragingly, the division is nowhere near as mature as other parts of Apple’s business and we believe there is significant scope for future growth as Apple rolls out more content and services.”


Despite these positives, Apple’s results do not provide the company with a completely clean bill of health, according to Saunders.

“The iPad business, which was once a key driver of growth, is now firmly in decline with sales down 22 per cent over the prior year. And despite both product and operating system updates, sales of the Apple Watch continue to be anemic and it is clear that this product line is unlikely to be a significant winner.

“The other major negative comes from the profit line where net income fell by 2.6 per cent. Admittedly this is much better than the circa-20 per cent declines that Apple has posted across the past three quarters. However, it underlines the fact that the top line is not moving ahead by enough to keep pace with the increased investment costs in store refreshes, product development, and research. Given that Apple remains extremely profitable, this is not a huge problem – but it does indicate that the days of heady bottom line growth are over, at least for this fiscal year.”

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