As the following graph shows Apple gross margins and its operating margins have both been on a consistent upward slope since early 2006.
The reason is that the company has moved to more mobile devices as a percent of products shipped. Whereas Macs have had decent margins by the standard of the PC industry, they are not as profitable on a unit basis as iPods, iPhones or iPads. As portable or mobile products grow rapidly, it would follow that margins would as well.
However, the growth is not monotonic. There are occasional dips in gross margins. The cause is the launch of new device versions. On the following graph I show the launch times for the iPhone versions and the company’s gross margin as well as my estimates for iPhone and other product line margins.
The iPad grew shipments at 26% y/y but “sales” as measured by sell-through were up 44%. Detail from Tim Cook’s discussion:
“The June to September [sequential change] was 17 million to 14 million… as we had talked about in the July call, the June quarter contained 1.2 million increase in channel inventory and so … the comparison looks very different than our reported [shipment] numbers do… On a year-over-year basis, because of the year ago quarter having also a channel inventory build as we stock the channel to the [proper] level, the sell through year-over-year actually grew 44% and so the underlying sell through was extremely strong.”
Sell-through, (or “sales” vs. “shipments”) is a much better indicator of demand, obviously. Also see transcript for explanation of sequential decline (educational buying).
44% is not spectacular but it places the growth far more comfortably in the “high” bracket than the 26% units and 9% revenue growth that shipments data would indicate.
AT&T, Verizon and Sprint have all reported the number of iPhone units shipped in Q3 2012. The history of the these sales is shown in the following graph:
Foreshadowing iPhone sales | LinkedIn.
The Price/Earnings ratio is a very simple measure of the “value” a company has. The Price is the current share price and the Earnings is usually the sum of the last 12 months’ earnings per share. In other words it measures how many of the last year’s earnings are built into the share price. Put yet another way it’s the answer to the question “If earnings don’t change, how many years will I have to wait before I’m paid back for my share purchase with retained earnings.”
So a company with a P/E of 10 implies that if nothing changes, in 10 years a share owner would “earn” back the price they paid for the share. Any earnings after 10 years would be “profit” for the share owner. You can imagine it even more simply as buying not shares but an actual small business of your own. You pay up front for it and then wait until it pays you back. After getting paid back for the initial purchase you then make money that you can set aside.
Obviously this figure of P/E is very sensitive to growth in earnings. Consider paying $100 for a share of a company having just earned $10/share last year. It would have a P/E of 10. If earnings stayed at $10/yr for 10 years, you’d “get your money back” in 10 years. However if earnings grow at 20% then next year the earnings would be $12 then 14.4 then 17.3 then 20.7 etc. Adding these up means you’d get your $100 back in five years, not 10.
So with a company growing at 20% the “realized P/E” is 5. You realized the price of $100 in five years’ worth of earnings. In the scenario above you paid expecting to wait 10 years but you got paid in five. If that’s your retirement plan then you can retire five years early. Not bad.
Let’s then look at what Apple gave investors as “realized P/E.”
It takes money to make money. That’s a cliché. But it’s also true. The interesting question is how much can be gained from how little.
In previous articles I explained how Apple’s expenditures of capital for equipment used in manufacturing affects their output of products. The relationship between capital in and product out should stand to reason.
The more surprising aspect of that analysis is that we get to know in advance how much Apple spends (since they tell us their budget a year before it’s spent.) and therefore it becomes possible to get a rough idea of how much they will produce. And since demand has generally been higher than supply we can get an estimate of how much Apple will sell.
The only missing piece to this logic chain is to estimate how much will shareholders benefit from the capital expenditure. I’ll try to establish the relationship through a build-out of graphs.
The first graph shows Apple’s share price at weekly resolution.
The time frame stretches back six fiscal years. The time span includes some dramatic periods including the financial crisis and the launch of the iPhone and iPad.
To illustrate the effect of the iPhone and iPad on this share price appreciation, I’ve overlaid a quarterly resolution graph showing revenues over the same time period with each product line shown separately.
Note that I’ve indexed the vertical scale to match approximately the highest peaks of both graphs. The two axes scales are shown separately on the left.