Apple posted revenue of $43.6 billion and net profit of $9.5 billion, or $10.09 per share, in the quarter ended March 31. Both figures surpassed analysts' expectations. However, the company's 37.5% gross margin, down from 47.4% a year earlier, validate the market's belief that competition in smartphones and tablets have eroded Apple's margins.
The 44 analysts polled by Thomson Financial Network expected earnings per share of $10.07 and revenue of $42.6 billion. They forecast EPS of $9.08 and revenue of $39.3 billion for the quarter ended June 30. Apple's 37.5% gross margin fells squarely inside the 37-38% range expected by Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster after his survey of buy-side investors.
Apple sold 37.4 million iPhones in the quarter, up from 35.1 million a year earlier. iPad sales rose to 19.5 million from 11.8 million. Sales of Mac computers were flat at 4 million.
iTunes sales were a record $2.4 billion, up 28% from the previous year. iTunes sales were $2.1 million in the quarter ended December 31. The music store launched in 56 new markets, such as Russia and South Africa, at the end of December. The App Store is in 155 countries. The Music Store is available in 119 countries.
Apple also announced a new capital return program that more than doubled its capital return plan to $100 billion by the end of 2015. The company increased the share repurchase program to $60 billion from $10 billion and increased its quarterly dividend 15% to $3.05 per share. In addition, Apple announced it plans to add debt to its balance sheet and has already acquired credit ratings from ratings agencies Standard & Poor's and Moody's.
While investors are highly concerned with the company's EPS and gross margin, CEO Tim Cook spent a large portion of the earnings call diverting attention. He explained that Apple also values such metrics as customer satisfaction (won JD Powers nine times consecutively), customer repurchase rate and ecosystem commerce. "These other things for us are extremely important for us because we're all about customer service and enriching lives," he said.
Stiff competition in the smartphone market has helped erode Apple's growth and profit margins. Cook acknowledged the competition from Samsung and Google but said the company feels it has "the best products by far" and "the best ecosystem by far" and continues to invest in innovative products. Cook was not specific about upcoming products that would create a much-needed new product category, but he said Apple has "some really great stuff coming in the fall and across 2014."
Tuesday's earnings release was said to be company's most important ever by many commentators. Apple has ceded market share to Samsung and Google's Android operating system. It has launched the smaller tablet, the iPad Mini, with lower margins than its predecessors. There is no evidence of a new product category that will turn Apple's competitors into followers of trends established by Apple. Many are questioning whether CEO Tim Cook, handpicked by former CEO Steve Jobs, is the right person for the job. Tuesday's numbers, and the announcement of a larger plan to return cash to shareholders, didn't answer all the doubts but showed Apple is taking investors' concerns seriously.
Over the last two trading days, investors showed they expected good things from Tuesday's earnings. Shares of Apple were up 1.8% to $406 on Tuesday -- up 5.5% from Friday's low of $385.10 -- and rose 4% in after-hours trading as soon as the earnings were released. But investors have had an unfavorable sentiment on Apple in recent months. Shares of Apple are still down over 42% from their high of $705.07 last year.