In the latest quarter the iTunes top line grew by 32%. Additional newly reported items:
- Quarterly revenues topped $4 billion (a new high) and the company suggests that this rate is maintainable by stating it has a “$16 billion annual run rate”. The pattern of revenues is shown below.
- The content portion of iTunes revenues was $2.4 billion, up from $2.1 billion sequentially. Growth into Q1 is not unusual as many holiday iTunes gift cards are redeemed during January.
- Revenue growth has been surprisingly steady, averaging 29%/quarter for more than six years.
In the March quarter, our gross margin was 37.5%. It was at the low end of our range. We had a few items that on balance resulted in us reporting at the low end. They included mix, in particular, selling more iPads than we had planned, including getting iPad mini into our four- to six-week channel inventory range, some changes in our service policies that required us to make provisions for prior quarter sales, and we had some unfavorable adjustments.
- Peter Oppenheimer, Apple CFO, FQ2 2013 Earnings Conference Call
Thanks to Philip Elmer DeWitt for bringing this quote to my attention in the comments to Margin Call 2.
I was curious about the “changes in service policies” and what that might have meant, especially since they seem to have been retroactive (provisions for prior quarter sales).
The 10Q offers more details:
Accruals for product warranty for the three months ended March 30, 2013 include $414 million associated with product sales in prior fiscal periods reflecting the impact of changes to certain of the Company’s service policies and other estimated warranty costs. Of this amount, $224 million is associated with product sales in the first quarter of 2013, and the remainder is associated with product sales in 2012.
- Apple 10Q, Note 6, Page 17, second paragraph.
I expected Apple’s margins to improve last quarter. They didn’t and so the question I needed to answer is why. Here is a history of Apple’s gross margin and operating margin as reported since late 2005:
For a company selling hardware these are extraordinarily high margins. They are higher than those of Google and have narrowed the gap with Microsoft, neither of which has a high proportion of hardware sales:
Although Samsung and Apple are acclaimed as the leaders in profit capture for smart (and otherwise) phones, what is not lauded is how much they spend on capital equipment used in the making of these phones.
In 2012 Samsung spent around $20 billion while Apple spent about $10 billion (excluding leasehold improvements or Apple stores but including real estate).
Compare these figures with Intel at $11 billion, Google at $3.2 billion, Microsoft about $2.8 billion and Amazon $3.8 billion (including presumably new distribution centers.)
What each company spends on differs depending on its business model, but as the graph above shows it’s easy to see that there is a class of “big spenders” who spend so much that it makes it hard to imagine just what $10 billion/yr could actually buy.
To get an idea of just how big that figure is consider that
Thanks to @jtk0621 via twitter I was able to obtain a quarterly view into Samsung’s SG&A expenditures by cost category.
The value of this data is in being able to understand why Samsung SG&A as a percent of sales remains fairly constant. To recap, the discrepancy with Samsung’s SG&A is that it has grown in proportion to rapidly rising sales. Normally, when sales grow, SG&A grows but when sales grow very rapidly, SG&A grows a bit more slowly since it’s primarily a function of headcount and hiring is necessarily organic and hence slower as a process.
The contrast is shown in the following comparison between Apple’s SG&A and Samsung’s SG&A as a percent of sales. [For more detail on Samsung revenue composition see: The Cost of Selling Galaxies].
Apple’s SG&A has declined as a percent of sales, as one would expect, but Samsung’s hasn’t.
I have hypothesized that the reason for this might be in the practice of “outsourcing” many marketing functions. As Samsung expands promotional efforts, it does so partially by hiring people but even more so by farming out a lot more work. In this way, if and when sales subside, it can pare costs. This practice ensures that it’s not exposed to a huge cost structure that is hard to control. The downside to this approach might be obtaining “quality” marketing as oversight is still depending on inside teams who still have limited resources.
To test this hypothesis, I looked at the types of costs it reports and divided them into two categories:
Category 1 are what might be considered “internal” costs which are in function of employees or operations. These costs are:
- Retirement Benefits
I graphed these costs over time below:
Category 2 costs are those which can be “outsourced” and are in function of budget items. These are: