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Apple boss Tim Cook says 'reports about future products' likely delayed quarterly iPhone purchases

  • Earnings beat on adjusted basis
  • Revenue misses estimates
  • iPhone sales fall short of expectations

Apple reported quarterly earnings on Tuesday that beat expectations, but revenue fell short of estimates as the company sold fewer iPhones than expected.

The shares fell more than 2 percent after hours.

"We are seeing a kind of delay in purchasing behavior that we think is a consequence of the number of rumors and reports about future products," Apple CEO Tim Cook told CNBC's Josh Lipton. "That is happening. However, if you look at iPhone outside of greater China, iPhone units grew very nicely. We had more upgraders in the first half than ever before. And we had more switchers than ever before. There is a lot of good news in there."

The numbers

  • Adjusted EPS: $2.10 per share reported for the fiscal second quarter vs. $2.02 per share expected by a Thomson Reuters consensus estimate
  • Revenue: $52.9 billion reported vs. $53.02 billion expected by a Thomson Reuters consensus estimate
  • iPhone unit shipments: 50.8 million vs. 52 million expected by FactSet
  • Revenue guidance for fiscal Q3: Between $43.5 billion and $45.5 billion vs. $45.6 billion expected, according to a Thomson Reuters consensus estimate
  • Gross margin guidance: Gross margin between 37.5 percent and 38.5 percent next quarter, Apple forecasts

In the year-earlier period, Apple had earnings per share of $1.90 on revenue of $50.56 billion.

iPhone sales flatten ahead of fall 'super-cycle' 

Apple's iPhone sales not been expected to make a big leap from last year, as smartphone buying intent has fallen to a nine-year low, according to a survey of 4,075 North American consumers conducted by 451 Research and cited by UBS.

But Wall Street is counting on one key statistic to drive the company's earnings higher later this year: 300 million iPhones may be set for an upgrade this fall, according to venture capitalist Gene Munster.

Apple is tight-lipped about its upcoming products, but analysts have predicted features like OLED displays, wireless charging, and even perhaps augmented reality could come to upcoming iPhone models — putting extra focus on the company's research and development spending.

R&D expenses hit $2.78 billion during the quarter, up from $2.51 billion a year ago.

"We are investing a ton in machine learning and autonomous systems," Cook told CNBC.

Despite the lower-than-expected unit sales, Cook told CNBC that the iPhone 7 Plus sales were "extremely strong."

"We are having significant growth rates beyond what we ever dreamed of," Cook said.

Services revenue rises 18 percent year over year

Meanwhile, Apple has invested in new content, like a Tribeca Film Festival movie, for Apple Music. It's part of a growing source of revenue for Apple, services, which includes digital content, AppleCare, Apple Pay, licensing and other services.

"In services, the App Store was up 40 percent and our developer community is growing by over 20 percent. There is a lot of momentum," Cook told CNBC.

Cash pile hits $256.8 billion — and tax rate forecast to fall to 25.5 percent in fiscal Q3

Apple's massive cash hoard could become a major windfall for the company under the new presidential administration, which campaigned to cut taxes on the repatriation of cash held overseas.

Cook told CNBC a rate between 6.5 and 10 percent "seems rational" for a one-time tax holiday on foreign-earned income.

China sales fall 14 percent from last year

Apple's biggest Asian revenue source has been under pressure, as the strength of the Hong Kong dollar dampens shopping from mainland China. Sales fell 12 percent year over year last quarter.

"In China, we did similar to last quarter," Cook told CNBC's Josh Lipton. "We have now in the first half of this quarter had a dramatic turn versus the second half of last year. We do have more work to do. In China, the Mac and services ... grew strongly. We do have good factors. We have to keep working that."

It's a market where Apple faces ever-growing competition from local brands like OPPO, Vivo and Huawei. India is another growing market where Apple has to face down brands like Samsung and Xiaomi.

Warren Capital estimates that there was a nearly 2 percent decline in overall smartphone activations in China during the first quarter of this year, when companies like Xiaomi were favored.

Apple Watch and other products

  • Mac: Units grow 4 percent year over year, revenue pops 14 percent year over year
  • iPad: Units fall 13 percent year over year, revenue falls 12 percent year over year
  • Other products ( Apple TV, Apple Watch, Beats products): Revenue rises 31 percent year-over-year

Apple's earnings report comes after Apple released a new version of its 9.7-inchiPad, and a special edition of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. It also added new watch bands for spring, with colors like berry, pollen, sapphire, azure, orange and red.

Macs, iPads and Watches make up a relatively small amount of Apple's business — the company has not historically even disclosed Apple Watch sales. But it's an area where Apple competes in the educational market with Chromebooks, and in the professional market with Microsoft's new Surface line.

Watch: What the charts say about Apple earnings