Apples iPhone

Apple's Q4 Earnings: iPhone Growth and China's Slowdown — Live

Thanks for stopping by the live blog. We’re awaiting Apple’s fiscal Q4 report, which typically comes around 4:30 p.m. ET, and then its call with analysts at 5 p.m. ET.

When Apple reports earnings, there is news about the iPhone, news about the iPhone in China, and then everything else. Anyone looking for deep updates on product evolution or hints at what’s in the pipeline will be disappointed. Those kinds of updates happen on stage, and Apple has been pretty stingy on that front too.

But that doesn’t mean Wall Street’s finest won’t try to glean some clues from CEO Tim Cook. For one, they could try to tease out a launch date for Apple’s television service. Not its new streaming box, which goes on sale this month, but an actual competitor to cable television and an option for potential cord-cutters.

In the chief executive’s interview with Journal editor Gerard Baker, he said 15 million people were using Apple Music, with about 6.5 million paying subscribers.

He also gave a vague nod of approval toward the strength of the Apple Watch. Cook wouldn’t give numbers — he says Apple doesn’t want to give competitors any tactical insight — but he said Apple shipped “a lot” in the first quarter, “even more” last quarter, and that “I can predict without hesitation that we’re going to ship even more this quarter.”

(I’ve never completely understood why a sales or shipping number on the Watch is considered giving away a competitive edge, but dropping the number on Music subscribers, for example, wouldn’t be. Thoughts, anyone?)

Back to the real moneymaker: the iPhone.

Fortune magazine polls analysts on what they expect the sales number to be. Analysts polled forecast that Apple sold 48.7 million iPhones during the quarter, 24% more than a year earlier.

Apple’s Q4 earnings are weird in that the reporting period usually includes a sliver of iPhone launch sales. In this most recently ended quarter, the iPhone was on sale for only two days.

Meanwhile, there are dueling sets of expectations. On the one hand: last year’s launch was the one that included the bigger-screen iPhones, which gave a huge boost to Apple. While Cook & Co. have stressed that the current models are rich in features to the point that they are brand new, this year’s launch lacks such a stark, visible change.

Even so, Cook goes out of his way on earnings calls to remind analysts that only a small portion of the iPhone user base has upgraded to even the big phones. His point: there is still a rich vein of dedicated Apple consumers who have yet to buy an iPhone 6, let alone a 6s.

The iPhone is a two-layer story: there are the unit sales, and then there are the unit sales in China.

China, as the great untapped mass of buyers, is always on analysts’ minds. This quarter’s iPhone results have the benefit of including results from China. Last year’s results didn’t include China sales, since the phone was introduced there in October. (Now, what that means for Apple’s results in the all-important holiday Q1 is another topic.)

The single question hanging over all this is: When will the rampant growth of the iPhone, which makes up some two-thirds of Apple’s revenue, slow down for good. And the offshoot to that: What might take its place? (That question is why people are in such a lather to get info on Watches and Cars and Television and any other commodity product that might get Apple’s prized brand name in front of it.)

Those concerns about an iPhone slowdown also reflect concerns about a general consumer slowdown in China itself. The doubt and noise got to the point that Cook wrote an email to CNBC’s Jim Cramer to say that Apple definitely was still seeing strong growth in China.

With New York trading officially over, let’s check in on the stock: Shares finished the session at $114.55, down less than a percent. In after-hours trading, the stock showed a small gain – again, of less than a percent.

For anyone stopping by for earnings, a reminder that Apple tends to wait on the release until closer to 4:30 pm ET. The call coming at 5 pm ET.

Another smaller storyline to follow is the Mac. I’ve been interested in that number since sales of Apple’s computers chugged ahead, bucking the slowdown in the Windows-based PC industry, and even surpassed the iPad in terms of revenue.

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