Apple surprised Wall Street today with stronger than expected earnings in its second quarter, though the company came up short in its estimates for the next one.
Apple reported earnings of $9.5 billion on $43.6 billion in sales. That was right on target with the $9.5 billion in profit and just barely above the $42.3 billion in sales that Wall Street expected. It was also above Apple's own expectations, which were between $9.23 and $10.23 per share on sales of $41 billion to $43 billion.
By comparison, Apple tallied up a higher $11.6 billion in profit on sales of $39.2 billion during the same quarter last year. That was fueled by iPhone and iPad sales that were 88 percent and 151 percent better than the year before, respectively.
"We are pleased to report record March quarter revenue thanks to continued strong performance of iPhone and iPad," Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a statement. "Our teams are hard at work on some amazing new hardware, software, and services, and we are very excited about the products in our pipeline."
Still, the results represent Apple's first year-over-year profit decline in a decade, an 18 percent drop from the year-ago quarter. The last time Apple posted a decline in profit from the previous year's quarter, it was the very beginning of 2003, and the company was hit by both the economic downturn and a restructuring charge, and then some.
"Fiscal 2012 results were incredibly strong," Cook told analysts during an earnings call after the news, adding that it was "making it difficult" to compare previous results. Other variables included a higher gross margins, higher strength of the dollar, and what Cook referred to as "historically low" component costs.
Apple said it sold 37.4 million iPhones during the quarter, well above the average of 34 million that Wall Street expected. Trailing that were sales of 19.5 million iPads, which also were above the consensus of 18 million to 19 million tablets. The two products are Apple's most popular, and they were revamped last fall. For other products, Apple sold 5.6 million iPods, and "just under" 4 million Macs, in line with estimates of around 3.9 million.
Cook played up the Mac sales, despite the 2 percent drop in sales from the previous year, pointing to the iPad as a potential gateway device. "We sold nearly 20 million iPads," Cook told analysts. "We believe if anything, the huge market in tablets may benefit the Mac, because it pushes people to expect and think about that product in a new manner." He added that the company was going to "continue making the best personal computers," and that "more great stuff" was planned.
For its next quarter, Apple said it expects sales between $33.5 billion and $35.5 billion and a margin between 36 percent and 37 percent, which even at the high end is less than the $38.6 billion in sales and 38.6 percent margin that analysts, on average, were expecting ahead of the call.
In after-hours trading following the news, shares of Apple jumped up $21.09, or 5.19 percent, though later settled down $1.15 to $404.98, or down 0.28 percent.
This is the first quarter since Apple changed the way it estimates its future financial results. The company was well known for comically low-balling its forecast, something that became more of an issue after a string of record-setting blowouts that drove many analysts to pump their estimates. During its last call with analysts, the company's CFO noted that Apple was moving from a set number to a "range of guidance that reflects our belief of what we are likely to achieve."
Alongside its quarterly performance, Apple announced an increase to its capital return program that adds another $55 billion on top of what it put into place last year. It also increased the amount of its quarterly dividend by 15 percent, which the company says will mean a pay out of a total of $11 billion to shareholders a year. That move coincides with Apple announcing it accrued $12.5 billion in cash during the quarter, bringing its grand total to $145 billion, up from the $137 billion the company reported at the end of January.
Apple is hosting a call with financial analysts at 2 p.m. PT, which should provide a number of insights into the company's numbers, including some that aren't initially reported. We'll add any important details from that call to this post.