Something big will be missing from Apple’s earnings tonight

Typically, the September quarter’s results include the first few days of sales for the newest iPhone. Last year, the iPhone 11 hit shelves on September 20, 10 days before the end of the quarter. That meant the September quarterly sales numbers provided a preview — albeit a relatively small one — of how strong demand for the new device was immediately following the launch. (iPhone sales during that quarter fell 9%, a narrower rate of decline than in previous quarters, in line with analysts’ expectations of strong early iPhone 11 demand.)
This year, however, the iPhone 12 release was delayed by several weeks because of the pandemic. Preorders for the iPhone 12 started October 16 and it landed in stores October 23, meaning the first official look at how it’s selling won’t come until Apple reports earnings for the current quarter, which runs through December. It may also mean that comparing sales numbers in this year’s September quarter, which marks the fourth quarter of Apple’s fiscal year, to the same period in the prior year will be tricky.

“It will not be apples to apples with a typical September quarter with no iPhone launch until October,” Wedbush analyst Dan Ives told CNN Business.

Investor interest in iPhone 12 performance is likely to be especially high this year, given expectations that the device could be a game changing product that drives a “supercycle” of upgrades.

For this reason, investors and analysts will be keeping a close eye on the company’s guidance for the current quarter and any potential insight Apple executives provide during Tuesday’s earnings call about preorders and early sales of the iPhone 12.

“Fiscal 4Q earnings will lack visibility on new iPhone 12 demand that we’ve had in the past but I’d fully expect guidance to provide early color,” said Geoff Blaber, CCS Insight’s vice president of research, Americas. “Guidance will be more closely scrutinized than the Q4 earnings themselves.”

Though early sales of the iPhone 12 won’t be included in Thursday’s quarterly revenue report, analysts have indicated that early demand for the new smartphone is strong.

Aggressive discount offers from carriers are likely to help drive up orders of the iPhone 12, especially in the midst of the challenging economic environment caused by the pandemic, Dan Morgan, senior portfolio manager for Synovus Trust Company, said in a note to investors earlier this week. Morgan said he expects to see 75 million iPhone 12 unit sales during the current quarter.

Wedbush’s Ives said he also expects Apple CEO Tim Cook to offer some insight on pre-order demand for the iPhone 12 in recent weeks. Ives is currently projecting around 80 million iPhone 12 unit sales during the current quarter, with especially strong demand for the larger, 6.7-inch model, according to his firm’s supply chain checks in Asia.

Demand for the iPhone 12 “thus far is tracking more than 2x its predecessor iPhone 11, a bullish sign coming out of the gates,” Ives said his analysis indicates.

Still, the company’s report for the quarter ended in September should give investors an update on whether the pandemic has continued to drive increased demand for the tech giant’s products and services.

Wall Street analysts are expecting earnings per share of $0.70 on revenue of $63.7 billion. That sales number would mark a slight decline from the $64 billion in revenue Apple posted during the same period in the prior year — a departure from the revenue growth the company posted during the first three quarters of 2020.

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