Tech Check

Apple Throws a Curve; Hits a Home Run

Apple knocked one out of the park with its first quarter earnings, but in the process threw all of us for a curve as the company adopted accounting changes, and essentially took what was non-GAAP numbers and turned them into GAAP results instead.

So, on that basis, Apple reported $3.67 a share in what it now calls GAAP results, because of the accounting change, compared to the $3.50 anticipated. That news came on dramatically better revenue, of $15.68 billion compared to the $14.96 billion consensus. The company's gross margin was also 40.9 percent.

On a unit by unit basis, Apple's big success came with its Mac sales, a record 3.36 million units sold when analysts anticipated something closer to 3 million units. Apple reports 21 million iPods sold, and 8.74 million iPhones, though that iPhone number was a little below the 9 million units some on the Street expected.

Steve Jobs says on an annualized basis, Apple is now doing better than $50 billion a year, and the company's CFO Peter Oppenheimer says Apple generated $5.8 billion in cash during the quarter, which was its most profitable and highest revenue generating quarter ever.

So what happened here?

Apple changed the way it accounts for iPhone sales, a bugaboo with Apple investors since the product was released, and Apple adopted a so-called subscription accounting method which dramatically diluted just how profitable these devices really were for the company.

The Financial Accounting Standards Board allowed for a change that more accurately reflected what these sales really translate into and Apple apparently is taking advantage of that change. So today's GAAP number is actually yesterday's non-GAAP numbers, and we have the unusual circumstance of taking Apple's GAAP report and using the Street's non-GAAP estimates as the apples-to-apples comparison.

No matter.

This is a phenomenal report no matter which way you slice it. The iPhone number might be a bit disappointing, but that Mac number is one for the ages. And margins are impressive. And 58 percent of Apple's revenue now comes from overseas.

Looking at guidance, Apple expects $2.06 to $2.18 a share on between $11 billion and $11.4 billion. The Street was at $1.50 to $1.67 a share on $10 billion to $10.4 billion. RBC Capital's Mike Abramsky was looking for $1.92 and $10.7 billion, so the company is not nearly as conservative as it's been, and that should translate positively as well.

Give this dust a chance to settle, and let's see how shares react. All of this will likely be a kind of holding pattern anyway until Apple follows it all up with the big event on Wednesday.

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