Apple: A Pivotal Report

October 25, 2015

Welcome back, folks! Over the past three months, we’ve spent most of our time analyzing the Apple technicals on Twitter (you can follow our feed on the right sidebar of this page). With Apple releasing its fiscal 4Q 2015 earnings – and even more importantly guidance for the holiday quarter – on Tuesday, we wanted to prepare an update on our expectations. We will review both the fundamentals as well as the technicals, and our thoughts heading into the report.



So let’s look at this by category:

  • iPhone unit shipments tend to be slightly higher during 4Q than the prior quarter. This is largely driven by the introduction of the new devices in late September each year. While the prior (n-1) devices fall off a bit going into the release of the new devices, that dynamic is more than made up for by the annual surge at the end of the quarter. Based on the trend analysis we’ve conducted looking at the year-over-year (and quarter-over-quarter) growth in unit shipments, we’re adding 2 million units compared to last quarter and 10 million compared to last year. While it’s a big jump over last year on an absolute basis, the percentage growth is in-line with what we’ve witnessed in the past. Additionally, the move to a larger form factor is driving some additional growth in the 6-series devices. On a pricing basis, we’re projecting an ASP of $655. This equates to a $5 decline over last quarter and a $50 decline over last year. This is in-line with the 4S and 5S models, as a larger percentage of users purchase the n-1 device (i.e. the 6, not the 6s).
  • Mac unit sales will likely come in at 5.8 million units. This category continues to see growth, but is well-established at this point and easier to forecast than the iPhone and iPad categories which have seen varied growth rates over the past few years. Over the past four years, it has seen growth ranging from 22-25% over the prior quarter. That is a very tight and well-defined range. We are projecting growth of 21%, equating to 1 million more units than last quarter. Similarly, Macs tend to experience a $50 decrease in ASP between the third and fourth fiscal quarters. We are projecting a similar decline to $1,200 ASP.
  • iPad will likely see a further decline in unit sales. The holding period of these devices is far longer than we would have expected. We’re projected 9.5 million units were sold in 4Q, down 1.5 million from the prior quarter. We’re also estimating a minor decrease in ASP to $410.
  • Apple Watch has seen an enormous shift in sentiment over the past few months. The initial huge expectations has turned into almost an afterthought. We were surprised to see some of the extremely low numbers that others are projecting. We are projecting respectable growth from 2.6 million units sold last quarter (our own estimate, since Apple doesn’t disclose this) to 4.5 million units in 4Q. Tim Cook stated that there will be more Watches sold this quarter than last, and even more during the holiday quarter. Some took that to be his way of lowering expectations. In our view, he was simply stating the obvious. With the additional data point of both Best Buy and Target fast-tracking sales into as many stores as possible, it’s clear that these things are selling.
  • REVENUE. We are projecting $52.1 billion in revenues, which is 4% above their guidance. This would be the second lowest beat against their guidance over the past two years. We tend to have a conservative bias in our numbers, so feel good that our numbers are not only likely, but that there is more room to the upside than the downside.
  • EPS of $1.98 that we are projecting is $0.10 higher than consensus. The fact that we believe the risk to the upside is higher than the downside risk makes us comfortable that Apple will in all likelihood beat consensus for 4Q 2015.


Importantly, there is much more to the story than simply performing well last quarter. The guidance for the holiday quarter will drive the post-earnings reaction. During last year’s holiday quarter (1Q 2015), Apple experienced a huge beat vs. consensus, whisper numbers and even their own guidance. While they typically beat their own guidance by 4-7%, last year they beat their guidance by almost 15%. That has caused many to theorize that they simply “pulled” future demand into that quarter due to the spike in interest for the larger screen.

It’s a similar dynamic to what happened with the 5s device. After selling 10 million more iPhone 5 units in the holiday quarter than the prior year (4s), the transition to the 5s device only saw a 3 million increase. Share price started to decline in September 2012 in anticipation of these very challenging year-over-year comps. The fear at this juncture in the current environment is that we will see the same dynamic with the 6s device. Apple was able to sell 25 million more units in 1Q 2015 (74.5 million units) than they were able to in 1Q 2014 (51.0 million units)). No way Apple could beat a comp like that, right?


So why do we disagree with the general consensus?

We are projecting $80.1 billion in revenues and $3.56 EPS for the holiday quarter, based largely on the sale of 82.5 million iPhone units. There are a few dynamics we need to keep in mind here. Let’s first look at this from a “top down” approach, instead of a “ground up” approach.

Apple has never guided to a lower revenue number on an annual basis. Even in the weakest of their quarters, which preceded (and likely caused) the crash in late 2012, the still guided nearly $2 billion higher than the prior year actual revenues. They’ve been able to do this as the markets the products are available within and their market share continues to grow. Tim has continued to set expectations at a high level and has even gone so far as to send a letter to Jim Cramer explaining that growth in China continues to be robust. We do not believe he would be sending these signals had he expected growth to stop this quarter. Therefore, until proven otherwise, we have to assume that the historical dynamics will remain unchanged and that Apple will guide to a higher revenue number than last year ($74.6 billion). Furthermore, since Apple historically beats by 4-7% compared to their guidance, we know that they will not set themselves up to fail. In all of the quarters in which they’ve issued guidance going back to 2008, they have never come in lower than their guidance.

When you take all this together, it implies that current estimates for the quarter are simply too low. If they guide to a mid-point of $76 billion in revenues (just 2% above last year’s actuals), that sets them up for an $80 billion quarter. That’s just about exactly the figure we achieved when undertaking our “ground up” analysis above – by projecting unit sales and ASP for each category. It always gives us more comfort when multiple analyses line-up and point to a certain outcome.

TECHNICALS. Now for the fun stuff 🙂

Downtrend & Fib Levels. As soon as AAPL broke through the downtrend line from July earnings through early last week, shares surged. Significantly, not only did it break through every significant Fibonacci level, but it broke above the strong resistance level at $117.50 like it was nothing and closed above the $118.50 resistance level (dotted black line). You can also see the blue descending channel that looks suspiciously like an inverse head and shoulders pattern that has broken to the upside…

AAPL Hourly

Inverse Head & Shoulders. Speaking of the H&S bottom, see below. That’s almost as clear-cut as it gets. Don’t focus on the exact price of the shoulders. The premise is this. Shares form a new low price (left shoulder), then bounce to create a neckline. The bulls fail, and shares fall to a new low.  But the share price is able to recover to the same neckline area as the first bounce. On a subsequent drop, the bears fail and create a higher low – thus ending the downtrend (defined as creating lower lows and lower highs). Once the bulls are able to take price above the neckline, it’s a signal that a new uptrend is in effect (since there is a higher low and a new higher high). That is exactly what we’ve seen here. But we also have the important signals of RSI breaking through a nine-month downtrend (red dotted line up top) as well as a bullish MACD cross. We will be much more comfortable with the pattern if it’s able to break above the 200dma.


Bullish MACD Crossover. On the chart below, you’ll notice that we’ve seen a bullish MACD cross (green dotted lines) just prior to the four previous earnings announcements (black vertical lines). Two of these have preceded strong rallies, and two have preceded pullbacks. What’s interesting to note is that the two failed MACD crosses happened while price tested all-time highs on weakening RSI. That is no longer the case.

AAPL Daily Earnings MACD

Longer-Term RSI. While we’re on the topic of RSI, let’s look at a longer-term chart. There’s a curious recurrence taking place in the chart below. Each time the weekly RSI gets to a severely oversold level (i.e. deep into the red highlighted area) the shares have rallied to hit at least the top Bollinger Band, if not the 125% BBand level, within roughly 6 weeks. That equates to the $131-$138 level based on the current BBands, but remember the top Band will continue to rise with price.


Additionally, notice the 25 weekly ema on the chart above. It tends to act as solid support during uptrends, and marks a significant caution point when breached to the downside. However, each time shares have punctured back above this level, it has seen a significant rally.

25 Weekly EMA. Here’s a closer look at that 25 weekly ema. You can see the significance of this level. It’s also interesting to note that each time the EMA flattens, it tends to signal an inflection point in price. We just saw it turn back up slightly, which may indicate that shares are ready to resume their uptrend.

AAPL EMA Inflection

Daily Bollinger Bands. A very important piece of the puzzle is the BBands. This is a cautionary note heading into earnings. At the bottom of the chart below, we’ve included the %BB, which measures where against the Bollinger Bands that price is trading. We’ve provided colored circles for where shares sit along the BBands heading into earnings (red = top, green = bottom, grey = middle). Since the BBands measure standard deviation from the 20dma, it should be no surprise that shares tend to revert toward the mean. Historically, over the past three years, when shares are sitting at the bottom BBand (green), they rally after earnings; when sitting at the top (red), they either consolidate in the best case, or decline. It’s important to note that shares sat at the top of the BBands heading into both 2Q15 (April) and 3Q15 (July) earnings, and we saw a decline on both occasions. It’s important to keep this indicator in mind.

AAPL Earnings BBand

Bollinger Bands Over a Longer-Term. However, before thinking that we’ve turned into a raging bear, we’ve analyzed how share price tends to react to hitting the top of the BBands (100% BB). Interestingly enough, there is zero trend here. Out of the 24 occasions we measured below, 12 marked the top, and 12 marked either near-term consolidation, or a continued rally. The other aspect to note is that when shares did, in fact, continue rallying, the RSI leaped to the 80-90 level.

AAPL Daily BBands

CONCLUSION. Guidance will be critical here. We mentioned the BBands only because they were an important aspect to the prior two earnings announcements. We observed it both times but did not factor it into our investment decision. Based on all of the charts and fundamental factors, what we’re currently expecting is this. Apple will beat estimates in Q4 and issue guidance that implies an $80 billion quarter may be at hand. But we will not see a spike in after hours trading as we did for GOOG, MSFT, AMZN. Instead, we will see a more muted move over the next few days, followed by a rally to new highs as we enter the holiday season. We will be watching closely for clues over the next two days and re-assess as we head into the big announcement.

  • Lets see what it does Monday and Tuesday. If it loses a few points over those two days, it won’t be at the top of the daily BBand anymore, right?

  • Pingback: Apple: A Positive Shift in Sentiment | Three28Capital()