When I first started raising some questions about Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) last June, the part of the story I kept hammering away at was the way it reports its operating segments. Unlike its competitors, aside from its retail operations, Apple reports operating segments by geography rather than business unit.
Considering that Apple is no longer just a personal computer company, I was convinced that after the SEC did a scrub of its accounting recently, one change would be more detail on segments by business lines (computers, music and, soon, mobile telephones.)
But in two recent 10-Qs, Apple has continued to report segments the way it always has, shedding little light on the profitability of such businesses as the iPod or iTunes -- something investors ask about repeatedly on earnings conference calls.
Could it be that regulators are giving the company a pass? Who knows.
But as I wrote originally, rehashing what I believed were well-founded comments by independent analyst Robert Renck, in recent years Apple changed its description to include "music products and services" as a separate part of its business organization. "Apple clearly has its feet in two separate and distinct business models, namely computer manufacturing and software creation and the consumer electronics industry," Renck wrote.
Accounting standards, he added, require that segments generating more than 10% of a company's revenue be broken out by several metrics, including sales, profit and assets. The iPod first passed that threshold in early 2004. Commenting on the issue, in a statement on current accounting and disclosure issues, the SEC staff has said it believes segment information should be broken out unless "separate reporting of segment information will not add significantly to an investor's understanding of an enterprise [because] its operating segments have characteristics so similar that they can be expected to have essentially the same future prospects."
Renck went so far as to say he believes Apple should do a separate breakout for computers, iPods, music-related products, peripherals and software and service. "Their business has changed and they should be doing it differently," he says. "Transparency is what everyone wants, and they don't want to be transparent."
Maybe it'll change once the iPhone is rolled out?
I, for one, won't be holding my breath.