Tech

Apple CEO Tim Cook says company saw an 'uptick across the board' in late April thanks to stimulus and work from home

Key Points
  • Apple isn't providing June quarter guidance, but executives gave significant insight into how the company is dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and the economic fallout in a conference call with analysts.
  • Apple CEO saw an 'uptick across the board' in demand for Apple products in late April.
  • Apple predicts that Mac and iPad will benefit from the pandemic as people, workplaces, and schools need computers to work from home.

When Apple reported second-quarter earnings on Thursday, company executives didn't provide financial guidance for the quarter ending in June.

CEO Tim Cook said in an interview with CNBC's Josh Lipton that the company made that decision because "it's hard to see out the windshield to know what the next 60 days look like."

But both Cook and Apple CFO Luca Maestri gave quite a bit of color on a call with analysts about what they've seen economically in response to Covid-19 and how Apple has fared so far, as world economies brace for a lockdown-related slowdown and China starts to economically recover from its period of quarantine.

An 'uptick across the board'

Apple executives discussed how the timing of lockdowns around the world affected demand for Apple products.

"If you look at what happened in China, we were having a really good January, the lockdown started there toward the end of January, as you know. February we saw steep decline in demand. We closed our stores in February. As the lockdown completed in mid-February, towards the second half of February, we began to open stores," Cook said. 

Cook said store traffic in China was up from February but not to where it was before the lockdown started there. 

When the lockdowns started in the rest of the world in mid-March, Apple saw a sharp decline in demand outside of China, Cook said. But he struck an optimistic note about impending recovery, noting that things started looking a lot better in the second half of April. 

"The real thing for the rest of the world happened in March when the shelter in place orders went in and the work from home began. For those two, three-week period, at the end of the quarter we saw a sharp decline in demand," Cook said. "If you now step out until April and look at that, early April started like the end of March, but in the second half of April we've seen an uptick across the board."

Cook also gave two possible reasons why: Stimulus packages and a shift to working from home.

"A part of it is due to the stimulus programs taking effect in April. And then a part of it is probably the consumer behavior of knowing this is going to go on for a little while longer and getting some devices and so forth lined up to work at home more," Cook said. 

iPads and laptops are in, headphones and iPhones will be hurt 

Some of Apple's products will fare better in the marketplace than others during the pandemic, executives said.

Apple's more powerful computers, which include the Mac and iPad lines, could have a strong quarter as people need computers at home.

"We believe that iPad and Mac are going to improve on a year-over-year basis during this quarter and that's customers that are either taking online education or working remotely," Cook said. 

However, sales of mobile devices like iPhones, headphones, and Apple Watches will likely take a hit, executives said. 

"On iPhone and Wearables, we expect a year-over-year revenue performance to worsen in the June quarter, relative to the March quarter," Maestri said. 

"During the last three weeks of the quarter, as the virus spread globally and social distancing measures were put in place worldwide including the closure of all our retail stores outside of Greater China on March 13, and many channel partner sales around the world, we saw downward pressure on demand, particularly for iPhone and Wearables," Cook said.

Maestri said that people were holding onto their older iPhones for longer. "While we did see a slight elongation in our replacement cycle towards the end of the quarter which we attribute to the widespread point of sale closures, our active installed base of iPhones has reached an all-time high."

Cook said on the call he doesn't see Apple's customers trading down to less expensive devices with less storage or power.

Other product lines likely to be hurt by the pandemic include Apple's warranty program, AppleCare, which is often sold at stores along with new computers and phone; and Apple's relatively small ad business, which includes search ads in the Apple App Store, ads inside the Apple News App, and "third party agreements," Maestri said.

Remote work and school could be big

Apple executives repeatedly talked up the company's education and enterprise sales and software, suggesting that it sees significant opportunity as people around the world work and go to school from home.

"I think many people are finding that they can learn remotely and so I suspect that trend will accelerate some," Cook said. "I think that's probably also true about working remotely in some areas, in some jobs."

Maestri discussed some of Apple's enterprise clients like IBM and SAP and what they've done to enable work from home, including being able to manage company machines remotely and deploying new machines easily.

"We've seen countless examples of new products and deployments implemented in just a few hours. For instance worked with our New York teams. Peloton, for instance, worked with our New York teams to deploy an entire fleet of Macs overnight so their team could work remotely," Maestri said. 

Apple said that it's delivering large orders of iPads to school systems, including 100,000 in Los Angles and 350,000 in New York. 

Cook says that as Apple works from home, some of his employees are more productive, but it's not across the board. 

"Everybody's getting used to the work at home," Cook said. "In some areas of the company people may be even more productive, in some other areas they're not as productive. So it's mixed, depending upon what the roles are."

Manufacturing in China is back at 'typical levels'

Apple's execs were clear on the call on Thursday: its supply chain is going back to normal, which has implications for new product launches through the end of the year, which Cook called the company's "lifeblood."

Apple's devices are complicated computers with hundreds of different parts from different suppliers, many of whom are based in China. Apple's final assembly is mostly done in China as well. 

While China shut down in January, cities have re-opened and people are going back to work. 

"While we felt some temporary supply constraints in February, our operations team, suppliers and manufacturing partners have been safely returning to work and production was back at typical levels toward the end of March," Cook said on the call. 

Apple's CFO said that he didn't anticipate production or supply issues with the new products Apple has released during the pandemic, including a new low-cost iPhone and high-end iPad. 

"We are in a typical supply position including our usual ramp associated with new products recently launched," Maestri said. 

VIDEO7:5507:55
Apple reports earnings beat