Apple Earnings: Looking for More Growth

It's that time of the year again. Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) has just put a date to its first-quarter earnings release. The quarter, which coincides with the fourth calendar quarter, is arguably the tech giant's most important quarter. Not only does it take place during the holidays, but it's a quarter that's marked by the availability of the tech giant's latest iPhone releases.

Apple has scheduled its first-quarter results for fiscal 2018 on Feb. 1. Before the release goes live, here's a preview of what to look for, and what to expect.

Record revenue

For Apple's first-quarter revenue, investors should have high hopes -- and this isn't just because Apple released the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus just before the quarter began, and the iPhone 10 on Nov. 3. Investors should have big expectations for revenue because Apple management said that's what it would deliver.

Management guided for record first-quarter revenue of $84 billion to $87 billion, up 7% to 11% year over year, or 60% to 65% sequentially. Revenue growth in this range would start Apple off with more momentum than the 3% year-over-year growth Apple reported in the first fiscal quarter of fiscal 2017.

iPhone sales growth

Apple likely won't be able to pull this off without a big quarter from its iPhone segment. The product category accounted for a whopping 62% of Apple's trailing-12-month revenue, highlighting how the product can make or break a quarter. Fortunately, a good quarter from iPhone is almost certain.

First of all, Apple's guidance for overall revenue provided some vision into how iPhone sales were faring at the beginning of the quarter, since the guidance was issued over a month into Apple's fiscal first quarter of 2018. Guidance for strong year-over-year growth in overall revenue suggested iPhone was having a great holiday quarter.

But investors can also expect a big quarter from iPhone because of how robust Apple's lineup of new iPhones was this time around. Not only did Apple launch the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus in late September, but the iPhone X came two months later.

Finally, Apple appears to have benefited from a strong supply of its new iPhones during the holiday season based on how rapidly shipping times slipped during the period.

Strong earnings-per-share growth

Thanks to Apple's aggressive share-repurchase program, the company's earnings-per-share growth should outpace its revenue growth during the period. During fiscal 2017, Apple repurchased about $48 billion worth of its own shares, or about $12 billion per quarter. This pace likely continued at a similar rate in Apple's first fiscal quarter of 2018.

By aggressively reducing its share count since initiating its capital-return program in 2012, Apple's earnings-per-share growth has outpaced both revenue and net income growth in recent years. To this end, it's not surprising that analysts are expecting Apple's earnings per share to rise an impressive 13% year over year in the first quarter.

With Apple stock trading about 50% higher in the last 12 months, meeting revenue guidance may not be enough when the tech giant reports results on Feb. 1. Investors should look for revenue at the high end of management's guidance range, year-over-year growth in both iPhone units and sales, double-digit earnings-per-share growth, and guidance for more year-over-year revenue growth in Apple's second quarter of fiscal 2018.

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Daniel Sparks owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2020 $150 calls on Apple and short January 2020 $155 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.