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My investing philosophy mostly centers around the Value discipline and GARP- Growth at a Reasonable Price. This blog includes commentary on market conditions as well as fundamental analysis of specific companies. Graduated from Rhodes College with a degree in Business with concentration in Finance & Marketing. Currently working on obtaining the CFA designation. Previously worked in Mortgage Trading for a major bank. Use MS Excel extensively for developing investment models, notably valuation models based on DCF methods.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Calculating Gross Margin for Apple's iPhone (4Q08)

APPLE INC (nasd:AAPL) According to my calculations, deferred revenue booked from Q4 iPhone sales carries a 55.5% gross margin. Gross margin on the deferred revenue (DR) booked from the first generation model averages about 29%. The average gross margin for total booked DR is 47.8%.

I derived this number from the “deferred expense under subscription accounting“ that Apple disclosed in its annual filing (10-K) in conjunction with the deferred revenue (under subscription accounting) also reported. I used some rather extensive math to come up with the 55.5% number which I discuss below.

Apple’s ”Non-GAAP“ figures it provided for Q4 implies that 3G iPhone GM was 47.8%. According to the 10-K, GM for iPhone deferred revenue not yet recognized in income is also 47.8%. Coincidence? Not likely. Since the deferred revenue carried on the balance sheet includes both the original and 3G models, that GM should differ from the GM implied by Q4 Non-GAAP numbers that solely comprise of 3G unit sales. We know that the GM on the 3G model is much higher than the first model.

So why is the GM according to Apple’s Non-GAAP figures the same as the GM derived from the 10-K? Apple included estimated future warranty expenses in the adjusted cost-of-goods sold (COGS), which inflates Non-GAAP COGS and understates GM. The amount of estimated expense is at Apple’s discretion. In my opinion, Apple overstated the Non-GAAP COGS adjustment for the sake of conservatism, but also to obscure the true iPhone GM. Normally, under GAAP accounting (subscription), Apple recognizes iPhone warranty expenses as incurred. However, Apple added its estimates for future warranty liability into the COGS adjustment, and I believe management was very conservative.

The gross margin on the iPhones sold in Q4 that will be recognized over the coming seven quarters is 55.5%. There will be some warranty expense incurred, yet I expect it to be relatively small. It’s likely that most of the warranty liability is incurred during the period sold. If a unit is defective, the problem usually surfaces shortly after it’s purchased.

I estimate the normalized gross margin is even higher, possibly north of 60%. Thus, iPhones sold in 1Q09 and beyond will carry higher GMs, assuming ASPs remain constant. iPhone GMs for Q4 were abnormally compressed due to elevated shipping costs, adapter recall, and other various expenses related to the global introduction of the new 3G model.

Gross Margin- Non-GAAP Reported Q4:
For the first time, Apple provided adjusted figures showing the actual iPhone sales/income earned in the quarter. Until Q4, Apple always gave the GAAP numbers that uses subscription accounting for iPhone sales. Instead of recognizing the actual revenue earned for the quarter, it is spread over 24 months and amortized on a straight-line basis. Using normal accounting methods, total revenue would have been 3.787B higher, or 11.682B. Cost of goods sold (COGS) increases 1.975B to 7.161B. Overall gross margins improve from 34.7% (GAAP) to 39.0%, which equates to a 47.8% GM for the iPhone adjustment ([revenue adjustment - COGS adjustment] / revenue adjustment).

However, the 47.8% figure is not the true iPhone GM. First, the adjustments include AppleTV sales, yet that amount is believed to be quite small relative to the iPhone, thus the effect is probably very minimal. Second, and most important, is that Apple included the estimated warranty costs for over its full life in the COGS adjustment.

iPhone Gross Margin- Deferred Revenue/Costs Reported in 10-K:
Without knowing the amount of deferred iPhone cost booked in a quarter, it’s impossible to calculate iPhone gross margins. Apple’s quarterly filings discloses the iPhone portion of deferred revenue which is reported was a liability on the balance sheet, but Apple never broke out the iPhone related deferred costs that is included in an asset account. The actual amount of iphone revenue earned in a quarter can be determined by adding the change in DR account (+) the amount of iPhone revenue recognized in income. To find the actual product costs, we need the change in deferred costs. In its annual filing, Apple disclosed the amount of iPhone related deferred cost on the books at the end of Q4, but we don’t know the Q3 number.

Using the DR & DC at year-end, an average GM (of all iPhone sales) can be found. At year-end, Apple had $5.78B in DR and $3.02B in DC on its books, which translates into a 47.8% gross margin for all the iPhone sales still be amortized. Since Apple gives the figures for current (less than 1yr) and long-term accounts, we can gain additional insight into iPhone margins. For the iPhone sales that will be recognized within a year, the average GM is 45.1%, and for the non-current portion, the GM is 51.9%.

The reason for the 7% difference is due to 3G sales, which carries a much higher margin than the original iPhone. Almost all the non-current DR & DC is related to the 3G, since iPhones sold in 4Q07 & 1Q08 have moved from the non-current to current bucket. Only a small portion of Q2 sales would be left in non-current, and Q3 sales were low, thus the figures classified as non-current are almost entirely associated with 3G sales. The actual percentage of 3G models can be estimated from the change in DR from Q/Q compared to the actual ending balance. Current DR increased 2.129B to 3.518B, which means 60.5% of current DR is from 3G. Long-term DR increased 1.63B to 2.62B, but the actual amount of 3G classified as non-current is higher because of the portion of legacy iPhone revenue recognized for the quarter. I estimate that 320M of DR was recognized in Q4. Roughly 86% of non-current DR is from 3G sales.

Actual 3G iPhone Gross Margin Calculation:
With the figures for (1) average GM for both current and long-term [45.1% / 51.9%], and (2) the percentage of units which are 3Gs for both classifications [61% / 86%], I solved for the “true” 3G iPhone gross margin by setting up 3 simultaneous equations. The goal is to find the GM number (for both the 3G units and the legacy units) that produces the same combined gross margin for all three classifications (current, non-current, total). As I mentioned above, I solved for the percentages or “weights” of each model represented in the amount of deferred revenue reported on Apple’s balance sheet. Using those weights, the solution I found was 3G gross margin of 55.1% and 29.2% GM for the original model units. When the 3G & legacy gross margins are multiplied by the percentage weights for all three classifications (Total, Current, Non-Current), the products equal the same gross margin extracted from Apple’s 10-K.

(1) Total deferred: 47.8(all)= .71(MGN[3G]) + .29(MGN[2.5G])
(2) Current Deferred: 45.1(all) = .61(MGN[3G]) + .39(MGN[2.5G])
(3) Non-Current Deferred: 51.9(all) = .86(MGN[3G]) + .14(MGN[2.5G])

If my math is correct, the gross margin on the DR booked from 3G iPhones sold in Q4 (Sep 08) is 55.5%. This means over the next seven quarters, Q4 iPhone sales that will be recognized in current earnings contribute 55.5% GM. Yet, gross margins on units sold going forward will materially exceed the 55.5% generated on Q4 sales.

The rationale for thinking the normalized GM will be higher is due to excess product expense related to the roll-out. Shipping costs were abnormally inflated due to pressures created by supply shortages. The elevated expenses were due to more shipments of smaller lot sizes expedited at quicker delivery times. In short, distribution costs weren’t optimized, yet it’s better to spend a little more to make a sale, than to try to contain costs and forego a sale. For example, iPhones ordered through AT&T direct fulfillment were being delivered individually by FedEx. In addition, Apple stores were receiving smaller shipments but more frequently, on an as-needed basis, so that some stores don’t get too much stock leaving others short. Now that demand and supply factors are in balance, Apple is able to reduce distribution expense by shipping larger lot amounts, less regularly at non-expedited speeds.

Another item inflating product costs was the power adapter recall. Not only does this cause material costs to increase, shipping and packaging costs were likely unfavorably impacted as well.

Going forward, I foresee rising margins resulting from efficiency gains in distribution along with lower product costs resulting from falling component prices and scale benefits. Another item of note, the end of September Apple began selling unlocked iPhones online to Hong-Kong for roughly $685/$799 (free shipping). These prices are quite higher than what Apple receives on other iPhone sales. It’s possible that Apple can do decent volume through the Hong-Kong channel given the propensity for iPhones to find their way into grey markets, such as China, Thailand, Vietnam and others. It’s interesting that Apple decided to sell unlocked, open carrier iPhones only to Hong-Kong which makes one wonder if this is a direct response to the stubbornness of Chinese carriers.

Massive iPhone margins provide Apple with the ability to reduce selling price and still earn a generous profit. Apple has a key advantage over other mobile handset makers that don’t have nearly as high GMs. I expect Apple to eventually lower iPhone prices, but given the iPhone’s superior value proposition, a price cut shouldn’t be needed for some time. However, that doesn’t preclude Apple from doing so just to make competitors life difficult.

Apple could use the colossal iPhone margins to subsidize price reductions on other products if needed. Given the difficult economic environment, this is a very beneficial arrow for Apple to have in its quiver to draw upon.

Disclosure: Long AAPL

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Analyzing Apple's iPod Business

Apple Inc. (nasd:AAPL)- Slowing iPod sales growth has been one of the chief concerns among AAPL investors because the iPod has historically been a major contributor to Apple’s overall revenue growth. The concern stems from the belief that the PMP market is becoming saturated. With 175 million iPod units sold, finding new customers is becoming more difficult. However, the iPod is becoming less of a revenue contributor, hence Apple is less dependent on the iPod for its sales growth. Andy Zaky, a highly accurate AAPL analyst addressed the iPod’s shrinking importance with regards to Apple’s corporate revenues. In addition, If Apple reported iPhone sales as part of the iPod segment, this wouldn’t be much of a concern, because the iPhone would have reaccelerated sales growth in the iPod segment. I recently discussed that scenario. Yet, Apple reports the iPhone separately. Therefore, this analysis focuses on the traditional iPod product line and its growth outlook.

Historically, Apple has used price reductions to fuel unit volume. The demand elasticity allowed the increase in unit sales to outweigh the decrease in ASP, resulting in higher dollar revenue. In a more saturated environment, demand becomes less elastic Unit growth has been slowing: 6% (FY08) vs. 35% (FY07), but iPod dollar revenue grew 10% in FY08 compared to 8% in FY07. Apple was able to increase iPod ASP to $167 (FY08) from $161 (FY07) with the introduction of the Touch. Even as the PMP market has neared saturation, Apple has reformulated its iPod product line which will motivate upgrades to iPod models carrying higher ASPs. Therefore, Apple’s current iPod product line strategy focuses on appealing to non-PMP users, as well as motivating current users to upgrade to higher ASP models. Apple has also positioned the iPod product line so that it’s practical for a user to own multiple iPod models to serve different purposes.

iPod Sales- Historical Overview:

iPods were the primary growth engine for FY05 and FY06, responsible for roughly 58% of Apple’s total revenue growth for both years. In FY07, iPod segment generated only 14% of overall sales growth. As a percentage of total revenue, iPod accounted for 33% (FY05), 40% (FY06), 35% (FY07) and 28% (FY08).

The iPod is becoming less significant for revenue growth due to the success of the Mac and iPhone segments. Apple’s revenue grew 35% in FY08 and 24% in FY07, yet the iPod was the slowest growing segment both years. In the last quarter (4Q08), iPod sales were only 21% of total revenue, and less than 15% not using iPhone subscription accounting. Thus, concerns about flagging iPod sales detrimentally impacting Apple’s overall business are stretched since the iPod is becoming less of a contributor. On a non-GAAP basis, the largest revenue contributing segments are the iPhone and Mac, which are the also the fastest growers.

Historically, Apple has introduced new iPod models at high prices then gradually lowered prices. Unit volume accelerates at lower price points, but the decrease in ASP results in less dollar sales growth. The reverse is true when Apple introduces models at high ASPs, which offsets the effect of lower unit volume on dollar revenue. In a saturated market, demand elasticity evaporates as unit volume is not responsive to lower prices. The focus shifts to motivating current users to upgrade to new-featured models at higher price points. A common belief is that Apple has sold so many iPods, that there isn’t anyone left that doesn’t already own one. In a sense, that’s almost literally true. Those that would enjoy such a device, likely have already bought one. Figuratively speaking, the low hanging fruit has been picked. Therefore, Apple needs to keep introducing new models with advanced features that will entice user upgrades and appeal to new consumers lying beyond the PMP market. Apple has accomplished this with the Touch.

iPod’s first two years on sale, ASPs averaged around $350. Then in Q404 (Sept) Apple cut iPod prices $100 and demand increased considerably. In Q205, Apple priced the “Mini” iPod model @ $199 along with launching the shuffle. This resulted in ASP dropping to $191 in Q2 from $264 in Q1. Unit sales exploded even exceeding the previous period which was a holiday quarter. ASP trended down over the next couple quarters until Q106 when the video iPod was released. ASP rose to $207. ASPs gradually fell over the subsequent 8 quarters, sustaining unit volume growth.

In FY07, unit sales growth was 31%, but revenue growth was only 8%. In 1Q08, Apple introduced the Touch model which carried a significantly higher ASP. This resulted in FY08 iPod revenue growth of 10% on top of 6.2% unit growth. That’s right, iPod revenue growth was higher in FY08 compared to FY07. Thus, even though unit volume has slowed materially, dollar revenue growth has actually increased. I think that point is often missed from investors and the media primarily focusing on unit sales.

iPod unit sales only grew 5% (y/y) for 1Q08, but dollar sales increased by 17% due to a higher average selling price (ASP). After 8 consecutive quarters of declining ASP, the Touch reversed that trend as ASP rose to $181/unit in 1Q08. You would have to go back 6 quarters to find a higher ASP. We have seen a decline in ASP since Q1 mainly due to the price cut for iPod Shuffles, which management stated has had a very positive effect on volume. 

In the September quarter (Q4), ASP fell to $150, primarily due to the back-to-school promotion. I surmise that ASP might have been $20-$25 higher otherwise. Going forward, I expect the recent trend of declining ASPs to reverse. ASPs will rise due to the sales mix skewing towards the Touch model. The July opening of iTunes App store, along with the September’s introduction of the 2nd generation Touch model at reduced prices, will substantially boost demand.

The purple shaded area of the sales table highlights the periods where ASPs dropped stimulating unit sales growth. It’s also apparent that revenue growth slowed due to the lower ASPs. The green area shows the periods where ASPs increased significantly; unit sales stalled, but revenue growth accelerated due to the higher ASPs.

The graph below depicts unit volume at various ASPs; the basic demand curve. Due to seasonality effects, data points are plotted according to quarter. Elasticity of demand is quite visible as quantity demanded is barely responsive in the $400 to $250 price range, then turns very elastic from the $250 to $150 price range as the demand curve flattens.

iPod Product Line:
Primary Attributes:

Touch- PDA, internet/email, wide screen video, games, other software (applications) 

Classic- massive storage

Nano- video w/ size and price

Shuffle- size & price

Touch: (iPhone) is the purest form of a converged device with its broad array of applications. It’s a perfect “all-in-one” device that’s small/light enough to be carried on one’s person. A converged device doesn’t totally eliminate the need for multiple devices. Instead, it reinforces the importance of having dedicated devices to accomplish specific needs. I know many consumers myself included) that have an iPhone and multiple iPod models to serve different purposes. A recent LA Times article reports that some iPhone users are also buying a Touch just for gaming purposes.

Classic: Primary feature is its massive storage capacity. It can serve as the chief repository for all one’s media as well as a dedicated media player. I connect my classic to my home stereo system which plays music throughout the house. Substituting my iPhone (or Touch) involves limitations. First, the capacity is much less, but most important, it ties up the device which means I am unable to use the other features.

Shuffle: This is perfect for outdoor and/or physical activity. This model is quite durable and very difficult to damage. Even if one manages to destroy his/her shuffle, then he/she is only out $50. Contrast this with other iPods which are more easily damaged and cost much more to replace. Thus, I’m not too inclined to jog or lift weights with my iPhone. Plus, the Shuffle’s diminutive size, measuring 1 in x 1.5 in and weighing ½ oz, makes it ideal for physical activity. At $50 for 1GB, the Shuffle is very reasonably priced. This expands its appeal to those who are less enthusiastic about music to spend very much on a PMP. For instance, some listen to a basic FM radio Walkman while working in the yard or exercising since they are not particular about which songs they hear. A Sony Sports Walkman (with arm band) runs $44 at Best Buy, thus the Shuffle is price-competitive.

Nano: This has been the most popular iPod due to its attractive price and the improvements in storage capacity. I expect a significant portion of the Nano sales will migrate to the Touch model since Touch prices have come down. Originally, the cheapest Nano was $150, and the cheapest Touch was twice as much, $300. In September, the 8GB Touch was reduced to $230. At $150 one can buy a 8GB Nano, or for $50 more upgrade capacity to 16GB. From the consumer perspective, it may make sense to pay 33% more in price for 100% more in memory. Common thinking is that one might later regret not getting the higher capacity model. However, that has become a less pertinent issue due to increased capacity offered in the base model. 8GB could be sufficient for many people, whereas 4GB was not. Yet, for $80 more one can buy a 8GB Touch which is a quasi-mini computer. Thus, when evaluated from the perspective of- $50 buys more storage, and $80 buys a conglomeration of added functionality, it makes much more sense to buy a Touch now that its price has fallen from $300 to $230. Bottom line, if one is going to spend that much money for a Nano, why not spend a little more money and get many more features? I believe a number of consumers will share the same line of thinking and will be “pulled up” to a higher ASP purchase.

iPod- Product Line Evolution:
One of Apple’s key strengths is innovation and the ability to improve its products in short time. This is evidenced by the 6 upgrades to the Classic model since originally introduced in late 2001. There have been 6 generations of the “Mini/Nano” model since 2004. The advances in functionality have been very significant, all one has to do is compare the Touch to an early iPod model, or just compare the current Classic model to an early generation.

The iPod’s expansive evolution from its roots as basic music player. Early models included remedial PDA features such as contacts, calendar, and notes, yet entries/edits such the once ubiquitous Palm Pilot. adds virtually full internet functionality and email when connected to WiFi. This summer, the App store was launched offering thousands of applications, many are free. This is a radical change which makes the Touch more like a mobile PC. Throw in a cellular radio and the Touch becomes and iPhone. In essence, the iPhone is just a mutation of an iPod, and the Touch is somewhere in between, with the Classic and Nano models still retaining the original iPod characteristics.

The first iPod models only differed in capacity. In 2004, a smaller model “Mini” was added at a significantly lower price point. Being just music players (later video added), consumers would choose an iPod based on desired capacity and price. Most likely, that would be the only model he/she would need/want. The introduction of the Touch changes that scenario with its PDA and web browsing attributes and games.

The iPod took a giant leap with the Touch. The display is much larger than other iPods and includes touch screen navigation. Touch iPods also include WiFi, users can access the web, e-mail, and utilize the widgets to grab updated weather, stock prices, maps, as well as watching YouTube Videos. It also has PDA applications, such as calendar and notes, as do other iPods, but the Touch’s qwerty keyboard significantly enhances functionality.

The evolution of the iPod line creates a higher possibility that an iPod owner would want more than one model. For example: Touch for PDA/internet & gaming, Classic as repository to store all content and as a de-facto stereo component, and a Shuffle for use during physical activities.

The iPod’s potential market is expanded by the Touch’s new capabilities, which may attract new consumers who had little interest buying a device strictly for music and video. Current iPod owners may buy a Touch for its PDA and web browsing features. The App Store has literally revolutionized the device’s potential, as gaming is becoming a prominent attraction.

iPod Growth Strategies:

Sales can only come from 3 sources: 1) Non-users of product category 2) Competitors’ customers 3) Firm’s current customers. Saturation occurs when the market can no longer expand from the addition of non-category users. Often, a industry shake-out occurs from firms switching focus from attracting new category users, to stealing competitors users. Weak firms are pushed out of the industry and a competitive equilibrium results. Capturing sales from competitors’ users becomes increasingly difficult. A much greater focus is then placed on extracting more sales from current customers. A firm can revolutionize a mature product (making current obsolete) to start a new life cycle.

3 Sources for Increasing Sales:

1. Non-Users- Don’t use product category: Attract new users

The number of consumers, who don’t own a PMP but potentially would buy one, is dwindling. If a consumer hasn’t purchased a PMP by now, the likelihood of purchasing one in the future is relatively low. With 174 million iPods sold and nearly 250 million total PMPs sold, it’s increasingly difficult to keep expanding the market to new users. Yet the market will continue to expand, albeit at a much slower rate.

In short, Apple can’t completely rely on new users to supply the sales volume as in previous years. Apple has been addressing this issue by reformulating its product line.

The Touch will expand the market since it’s not exclusively a music/video player. For those with little interest in music, then the web browsing, e-mail, and PDA features may be attractive. With the copious software available from the iTunes app store, it’s not hard to imagine some Touch owners not even using the music player. Considering gaming capabilities, the Touch is akin to handheld gaming devices, I, and many of you, know them as “Game Boys” even though today’s devices have advanced light years.

The Shuffle’s reduced price (under $50) makes it appealing to physically active individuals that desire to listen to music while exercising, but not very particular about listening to music at other times. 

2. Other’s Users- use competitors’ products: Increase market share

Apple’s iPod has more than 70% of the unit share of the PMP market. That number has held steady for past several years. With such a large share, Apple has already taken business from its competitors, thus less remaining to take now.

The iPod has roughly 90% of the market’s dollar, thus competing devices are the most part cheaper and target more price sensitive consumers. Apple just recently cut iPod Shuffle prices from $79 to $49 making iPods more competitive among lower-priced devices. I expect Apple may slightly increase its market share, but not to an extent large enough to boost sales growth significantly.

3. Current Users- iPod owners: influence to buy multiple devices / buy new device more frequently

iPod owners represent a large source of potential sales. They outnumber competitors’ users and possibly non-users likely to purchase a PMP in the near-term. A focus of Apple’s sales strategy is selling more iPods to current owners since they represent a colossal source of potential sales growth.

Increasing sales from current customers Apple must motivate the user to buy a new iPod more frequently (replacement cycle) and/or buy multiple units. 

PMP devices aren’t similar to printer ink, where more usage leads to more sales. Since usage doesn’t cause product consumption, the replacement cycle is longer. Speeding up the replacement cycle is more difficult than other products whereby it’s advised to “change every 3,000 miles” or “lather, rinse, and repeat” and “best if used by x date.”

Device enhancements from adding new features and expanded capabilities speed up the replacement cycle. Hence, the replacement cycle becomes an upgrade cycle. A number of iPod owners buy a new generation model because of better features even when their current device works fine. Innovation is key driver in generating more sales from current users. New enhancements have to be compelling to motivate the upgrade.

The heart and soul of the iPod line has been the Classic, later supplanted by the Nano. Apple’s new Nano generation adds new features, such as the accelerometer, which will stimulate the replacement cycle. 

Stimulating users to purchase multiple units is a challenge for this type of product. There is little need to have more than one PMP device since a user can only listen to one device at a time. Since devices are highly portable, there isn’t a need to buy multiple devices for use at different locations, unlike a TV perhaps. The challenge is to differentiate the product line by form and functionality.

Differentiation of the iPod model line encourages the purchase of multiple iPods vis a vis owning different models. The mini-PC/gaming functionality of the Touch, the reduction in size and price of the Shuffle, and massive storage of the Classic reduces the overlap of features. Thus, there exists a reason to own more than a single iPod model since the functionalities differ. An individual might own a Classic for storage, a Touch for internet/email and gaming, and a Shuffle for physical activity.

iPod Outlook:
Given the recent evaporation of global economic activity, iPod sales are likely to be the most effected Apple business segment. Due to iPod’s commanding market share coupled with its “lifestyle staple“ nature, Thus, iPods will continue to be in demand. A sluggish economy may reduce demand in the near-term, but it creates pent-up demand which will be realized with an up-turn in the economy.

It’s hard to argue that the iPod market is not becoming saturated, as Apple has sold over 174 million units. However, the Touch with 3rd-party applications opens the device to new consumer segments. Originally, the iPod only appealed to those consumers who desired a PMP (personal music player). The Touch offers much more than just a music player. It’s a gaming device, as well as a email and internet browser, and a personal organizer, and much more. With the advent of the iTunes App store, the potential for the Touch’s functionality is virtually boundless.  

The Touch presents the opportunity for attracting non-PMP users plus coaxing iPod owners to “trade up” to a device at a higher ASP. I didn't think the original Touch offered much value at the relatively high price points along with lacking 3rd party software capabilities. Now with the recent price reduction and iTunes App store launch, the Touch has gained significant potential. Initial demand of the 2nd generation Touch model released in September appears to be quite strong. There were widespread supply shortages during September and early October, and the Touch has continually been the #1 PMP seller at as well as a top 5 bestseller in the electronics category. The iPod sales mix will begin to skew towards the Touch boosting ASP. This will offset any slowing/negative unit growth effects on dollar sales.

The iPhone cannibalizes Touch sales, and probably the reverse is true as well. The magnitude of sales impact on one another is hard to know. I think the Touch provides a powerful gateway to the iPhone. Why carry two devices? The Touch provides an avenue to capture consumers who unwilling/unable to buy an iPhone. For instance, consumers may be locked in a wireless service contract, or use a different phone due to business purposes, may not live in wireless service area, or just don’t use a mobile phone. The Touch lets them become acquainted with a device similar to the iPhone, and when conditions permit, enhances the likelihood that they will purchase an iPhone. I am basing that assumption on the high rates of customer satisfaction.

Even though the Touch performs the same functions as other iPod models, it may not be the best choice for specific applications. This opens the door for consumers to own more than just one iPod model. The Classic can replace the CD player component for a home stereo system. The shuffle is ideal for outdoor/physical activities. The Shuffle should appeal to price sensitive consumers who previously weren’t willing to pay the high prices for iPods. These two factors should strengthen demand in light of a maturing market.


Monday, November 3, 2008

Taking an Alternative Perspective on Apple's iPod Growth

Apple Inc. (nasd:AAPL)- Analysts and the media have regularly cited slowing iPod sales as a major headwind for Apple shares. The iPod has been a major force in Apple’s total sales growth since it has been such a large percentage of Apple’s overall revenue. A common claim is that the iPod has been so successful, that everyone has one. A seemingly positive statement, some choose to take a negative point of view. For example, “ It’s not good for future growth because Apple is running out of new people to sell iPods to. Basically everyone who wants an iPod, already has one. While there will be sales resulting from the replacement cycle, it certainly won’t generate the magnitude of growth exhibited in the past. Therefore, iPod sales will significantly deteriorate.”

Apple has sold almost 175M iPods, and imagine if Apple created a new iPod that motivated iPod owners to upgrade, as well as appealing to non-iPod consumers. One can say Apple did, the iPhone. Apple reports iPhone sales in a separate segment apart from iPod, and it accounts for iPhone revenue using a subscription method that distorts actual performance due to spreading revenue over a 24 month period. If we were to combine iPhone sales, using traditional accounting, with the iPod segment, then we would get an entirely different picture. That wouldn’t change any of the overall numbers, but it would change the perception that iPod growth is rapidly slowing.

iPod Growth:
iPods were the primary growth engine for FY05 and FY06, responsible for roughly 58% of Apple’s total revenue growth for both years. In FY07, iPod segment generated only 14% of overall sales growth as iPod sales only increased 8% compared to 69% in FY06. Actually, revenue growth for the iPod segment ticked up in FY08, growing 10%.

Some cite market saturation as the major factor that will lead to a slowdown in iPod demand. Given iPod’s large revenue contribution along with having been the primary growth engine, critics predict a rough road ahead for Apple. As a percentage of total revenue, iPod accounted for 33% (FY05), 40% (FY06), 35% (FY07) and 28% (FY08). However, the iPod is becoming less significant for revenue growth due to the success of the Mac and iPhone segments. Yes, times have changed. It still seems that many have yet to catch on.

Apple’s revenue grew 35% in FY08 and 24% in FY07, yet the iPod was the slowest growing segment both years. In the last quarter (4Q08), iPod sales were only 21% of total revenue, and less than 15% not using iPhone subscription accounting. Thus, concerns about flagging iPod sales detrimentally impacting Apple’s overall business are stretched since the iPod is becoming less of a contributor. On a non-GAAP basis, the largest revenue contributing segments are the iPhone and Mac, which are the also the fastest growers.

Andy Zaky from Bullish Cross is a leading expert on Apple. Zaky recently wrote an excellent analysis regarding Apple’s dwindling reliance on iPod to fuel overall growth. He argues that too many are focusing on the slowing growth of the iPod segment and that they are misinformed as to the real impact any slowdown would have on Apple’s revenue growth.

Zaky writes: “Investors, the media and the analysts have consistently overstated Apple's dependence on the iPod for future revenue and earnings growth. In Q1 2008, the street, choosing to disregard iPhone and Mac revenue as being at the core of Apple's primary driver of future revenue growth, only focused on how iPod unit sales grew at a meager pace of 5% YoY.”

Zaky adds: “Even today, analysts and the media continue to question whether Apple could succeed in a recessionary environment due largely to the perceived uncertainty as to whether iPod sales can continue to grow in 2009. Several members of the media, including analysts and fund managers who don't cover technology stocks, continue to refer to Apple as the "iPod maker" or simply a "gadget maker" indicating that Apple's core business is derived from iPod sales.”

Viewing From an Alternative Perspective- iPod + iPhone Combined:
Arguably, The iPhone is just and extension of the iPod product line. Steve Jobs said “It’s the best iPod we’ve ever made.” The iPod segment has expanded with the Mini, Nano, Shuffle, and Classic model introductions. The iPhone is more/less a Touch with a cellular radio. Yet, one is an iPod and the other is an iPhone, at least judging by how Apple breaks out sales by product segment in its financial releases.

Until last quarter, whether Apple included iPhone revenue in the iPod segment, or reported it separately, there wouldn’t be much of a noticeable difference on the surface. This is because iPhone unit sales have been quite modest relative to iPod, and iPhone revenue is distorted from the subscription accounting that amortizes sales over 24 months. Management repeatedly said that iPhone wasn’t a significant portion of revenue. Very true using subscription accounting, 3% (Q1), 5% (Q2) 6% (Q3), 10% (Q4). Yet, the GAAP accounting treatment isn’t an accurate reflection of Apple’s business performance.

What if we took a different perspective and adjusted iPhone revenue to reflect the total amount earned in each period instead of the distorted subscription basis? And, what would it look like if iPod and iPhone were combined into a single reported segment?

Apple very easily could have decided to report iPhone sales as a part of the iPod segment, as well as using normal accounting. It’s all a matter of choice, the real figures stay the same. We probably wouldn’t still hear misguided comments such as “iPhone sales may be growing but it’s a very small revenue contributor. iPod is a huge revenue contributor and its sales are slowing.”

Without subscription accounting couple with combining iPhone sales with iPod, revenue dollar growth (Y/Y) for combined would be: 41% vs. 4% (4Q07), 47% vs. 17% (1Q08), 59% vs. 8% (2Q08), 26% vs, 7% (3Q08), and 184% vs. 3% (4Q08). With the iPhone’s $199 price tag and Apple’s plans to be in over 70 countries by the end of the year, we should expect to see growth figures like the 184% (4Q08) going forward. See the tables below.

From a combined iPod & iPhone perspective, we wouldn’t hear these misplaced concerns of an iPod slowdown. Instead, it could be characterized as “Apple tackled the issue of slowing iPod growth by introducing a new iPod with cell phone functionality which has re-ignited sales growth in the iPod segment.” “Apple could sell another 175M iPods as users upgrade to the iPod cell phone.”

Disclosure: Long Apple

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