One of the first companies added to the “Our Picks” section (with great conviction), thus far, Grant and I have been unyielding on our Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) position. The company’s strong balance sheet, growth (domestically and in emerging markets), combined with an expanding ecosystem led us to develop a bullish stance. We stated in March: “The company’s focus on the Apple Watch, Web TV Service, and Apple Pay all manifest Jobs’s ideals of shaping the future. Innovating time and time again, this fairly valued stock is truly one to own forever as it continues to challenge the status quo and build upon its already outstanding ecosystem.”
Following today’s earnings call our thesis still holds true, with reported revenue growth of 28% year-over-year (yoy) to $128 billion and earnings-per-share growth of 44%. Net income also increased greatly, up 36% to over $31 billion.
Although many who seem to be perpetually pessimistic towards Apple can often be heard calling the company a “one trick pony,” it sold over 135 million iPhones, 34 million iPads, and 10 million Macs in the first six months of the year. Clearly, Apple is moving more than iPhones, the focus on shareholders continues to manifest itself, and iPhone sales remain strong.
Increased Focus on Shareholders
Known for maintaining a strong balance sheet, many investors have called for a larger buyback program (activist investor Carl Icahn wrote a letter to CEO Tim Cook in October that argued in favor of the company repurchasing more shares, for example) or for a larger dividend. With the company’s cash position still increasing (it was at $193.5 billion at quarter end, up sequentially by $15.6 billion) and at a level beyond what the company requires for operations, according to Cook, it makes sense to return cash to shareholders.
To that end, the company repurchased 56.4 million shares for $7 billion and distributed $2.7 billion in dividends last quarter. In the Q2 2015 Call Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri gave an update on the current capital return program, saying “we’ve now taken action on over $112 billion of our $130 billion program, including $80 billion in share repurchases at an average price of $85.”
Perhaps more importantly, Maestri issued news of an increase in the capital return program, which only further increases shareholder value: “The board has increased the share repurchase authorization by $50 billion, raising it from the current $90 billion to $140 billion… The quarterly dividend will grow from $0.47 per share to $0.52 per share, an increase of 11%. This effective with our next dividend, which the board has declared today and is payable on May 14, 2015 to shareholders of record as of May 11, 2015.”
Apple’s cash position is strengthening and shareholder value is increasing — it pays to own Apple.
“One Trick Pony” is One Great Trick, but the Ecosystem is just as Great
Although I detest the notion that Apple is a company reliant solely upon its iPhone hardware, it is worth noting that the proclaimed “one trick pony” is a wonderful trick. The larger screen of the iPhone 6 has been well received (apparent prior to the current call), especially so overseas; in China, the company’s revenue of $16.8 billion (up 71% yoy) set an all-time quarterly record for revenue. Not all of this newfound revenue is a direct result of the iPhone, however, as iPad sales in China set a record for the March quarter (though iPad sales in general left much to be desired).
Tim Cook noted the strength of the iPhone overall and abroad in today’s conference call, “We’re seeing fantastic results for iPhone, with revenue growth of 55% year on year, and we’re seeing a higher rate of switchers than we’ve experienced in previous iPhone cycles. The success of iPhone has been extremely strong in emerging markets, where unit sales were up 63% year on year.”
As aforementioned, wonderful iPhone sales are not the only area contributing to Apple’s growth, as services revenue recorded an all-time high, aided by 29% year-over-year App Store revenue growth. This is Apple’s ecosystem at work, this is the iPhone fueling growth in other areas of the company. Overall, services grew 9% year-over-year and 4% sequentially; although these are strong numbers, they can grow further as more iPhones are sold and new services are offered.
Much has been made of slowing PC demand, a fact I noted in an article about Intel in March, “One of the biggest fears investors have with Intel is the shrinking PC market, which accounts for approximately two-thirds of its revenue; surely these fears are justified as year-over-year PC shipments fell 2.4% last quarter, according to IDC. Simply put, as we continue our transition to a handheld-led computing world the demand for PC’s declines.” These headwinds proved not to be a problem for Apple as the company sold 4.6 million Macs last quarter, an increase of 10% year-over-year.
Management also noted that thousands are continuing to develop apps for the Apple Watch, and Apple Pay continues to grow (last month Apple announced that the number of stores accepting it tripled). The ecosystem is as powerful as ever, shareholder focus is increasing, and the iPhone continues to find its way into more hands; as Apple strives to make the world a better place, they are also making a lot of portfolios better places.