Strong sales of Apple Macs seen offsetting slowing iPods
The growth of iPod sales is slowing but Apple Computer Inc. may surprise investors with strength from its original business -- computers -- when it posts quarterly results on Wednesday.
Apple completed the transition of its computer line to Intel Corp. microchips in August, when it introduced its professional desktop Mac Pro and Xserve products and is poised for further market share gains in the computer market, analysts said.
With more than 75 percent of the U.S. market for digital music players, there's limited room for growth in iPod market share. But there is plenty of room to boost Apple's original business, selling the Macintosh computers known for their industrial design and included package of media software.
"We see continued strength in the Mac business, which was very strong last quarter," said American Technology Research analyst Shaw Wu. "The transition to Intel has definitely been smoother than investors' expectations and is now complete."
Overall, Wall Street analysts expect Apple to earn 51 cents per share, on average, within a range of 49 cents to 55 cents, on revenue of $4.66 billion, according to Reuters Estimates.
In the year-ago quarter, Apple had net income of 50 cents per share and revenue of $3.68 billion.
UBS analyst Ben Reitzes expects Apple to ship 8.12 million iPods in its fiscal fourth quarter, which would be an increase of 26 percent from a year ago, he wrote in an October 12 report. In the previous quarter, iPod shipments rose 32 percent year over year.
He expects Apple to have shipped 1.48 million Macs, representing 20 percent growth from a year ago and 11 percent higher than the previous quarter.
"Our checks continue to show solid demand for Macs, particularly the new MacBooks," Reitzes wrote, referring Apple's notebook PC.
Apple said in July, when it last reported results, that it had doubled its share of the U.S. retail notebook market to 12 percent as measured by units shipped from January to June.
It said then it expected fourth-quarter net earnings per share of about 46 cents to 48 cents, including an estimated three cents per share expense from non-cash stock-based compensation. It also said it expected revenue of $4.5 billion to $4.6 billion.
Wu said that while he expects iPod sales to pickup somewhat in the quarter to be reported on Wednesday, they should accelerate further in the December quarter, aided by shipments of its recently announced Shuffle digital music player.
"We don't see a full rebound until the December quarter when we see much higher volumes of the recently announced Shuffle," Wu said.
Merrill Lynch analyst Richard Farmer wrote in an October 13 note that he expects Mac unit shipments of 1.51 million in the fourth quarter, up from his previous estimate of 1.44 million units, citing a "broader thematic shift in the story away from iPods toward an emphasis on Macs and 2007 new product cycles."
Farmer cited "better-than-expected demand for new MacBooks" for the increase in his estimated Mac shipments. UBS's Reitzes wrote that he expects MacBook Pro notebook computers with Intel Core 2 Duo processors available in time for the holidays.
While Apple is scheduled to report results on Wednesday, the Cupertino, California-based company might not release full financial results due to an internal stock option grant investigation, Wu said.
"Should they announce full financials, that would definitely be viewed as positive," Wu said.
An Apple spokesman declined to comment.
Apple said on October 4 that an internal investigation found irregularities with its past stock option grants and announced the immediate resignation of a former chief financial officer from its board of directors.
The company also said that Chief Executive Steve Jobs was aware of some of the stock option grants, but he did not benefit from those grants and was unaware of the accounting implications.
Apple said then it would likely need to restate its past financial statements, but was unable to determine the details of the restatements or the size of the likely charges it would take.
Shares of Apple rose 38 cents to close at $75.40. Since the company last reported quarterly results in mid-July, its shares have gained 25 percent.
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