Can Apple Inc. Crush Analyst Estimates -- Again?

By Markets Fool.com

Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) is expected to report its fiscal second quarter results on April 27, after market close. The company had previously issued revenue guidance of between $52 billion-$55 billion, gross profit margins in the range of 38.5%-39.5%, operating expenses somewhere between $5.4billion-$5.5 billion, other income of $350 million, and a tax rate of 26.33%.

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The above numbers work out to net income -- at the midpoint of the given ranges -- of about $11.62 billion. At the current share count of 5.82 billion, this works out to earnings-per-share of $1.99. Analyst consensus for the quarter, though, calls for $55.76 billion in sales (ahead of the high-end of Apple's range) and $2.14 in earnings per share.

Can Apple beat even these relatively high expectations?

It's all about iPhone
I don't think that investors should expect anything too surprising from the iPad and Mac lines. The iPad product lineup hasn't been refreshed, so I expect the year-over-year drops to continue. Apple's Macs have performed well, and I think with the recent MacBook Air refreshes and MacBook launch, these products should continue to sell well.

But, neither iPad nor Mac can have material impacts on the company's top and bottom lines like iPhone does, which is by far Apple's highest-grossing and potentially highest gross profit margin product category.

According to FactSet (via Barron's), analyst consensus for iPhone unit sales sits at 55 million. This would represent a seasonal decline from 74.47 million units seen in the company's first quarter, but a very solid 25.8% increase from the 43.72 million iPhone units it shipped in the same period in 2014.

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Great expectations for the quarter
I wouldn't be surprised if iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus demand remained strong in the first quarter, leading to a "beat" of these numbers. For example, Wells Fargo's Maynard Um recently said in a research report (via Barron's) that he expects iPhone sales of 56.7 million due to both "strength in iPhone sales" as well as "channel inventory fill."

Pacific Crest's Andy Hargreaves appears to agree with Um's assessment that demand for iPhones will remain "solid." He also expects channel inventory to increase.

For the quarter, if Apple meets analyst consensus, this would mean a 22.20% year-over-year increase in sales and a 28.9% increase in earnings per share. For a company of Apple's size, this kind of growth is quite impressive.

Yet again, consensus sits above Apple's guidance
You might notice that the average of analyst expectations with respect to Apple's revenue for the quarter sits above even the high-end of the guidance range that Apple gave.

This isn't a new phenomenon. For example, last quarter, consensus for revenue sat at $67.69 billion, which was above the high end of Apple's guidance range at the time -- Apple delivered $74.6 billion in sales.

The quarter before that, guidance called for between $37 billion-$40 billion, consensus sat at $40.4 billion, and Apple ultimately turned in $42.12 billion.

Apple certainly has a track record of making even frothy-looking estimates look downright tame in hindsight. Can Apple pull this same trick off this quarter? Even if it does, will analysts keep raising the bar for Apple until it can no longer clear it?

A look beyond the most recent quarter
For the current quarter, analysts expect Apple to deliver $46.9 billion in sales and $1.67 in earnings per share. These would represent 25.30% and 30.4% year-over-year increases, respectively.

The acceleration in the year-over-year growth seems to imply that analysts expect the blended year-over-year growth of Apple's core products (iPhone, iPad, Mac, etc.) to remain healthy, with the additional boost coming from Apple Watch sales.

Given the reports of healthy initial Apple Watch demand, the acceleration in year-over-year revenue/profit growth seems reasonable as long as there's no significant slowdown in the rest of Apple's business.

The article Can Apple Inc. Crush Analyst Estimates -- Again? originally appeared on Fool.com.

Ashraf Eassa has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.