Peeking At Apple's Upcoming Earnings

Jul. 5.12 | About: Apple Inc. (AAPL)

Sure, it's only July but the Apple (AAPL) rumor mill is already buzzing about product launches for this fall.

A story appearing in the Wall Street Journal adds credibility to a smaller screened iPad. And a surprise pre-Christmas launch of an Apple TV is still a wild card. Clearly, such moves would be bullish for suppliers such as Qualcomm (QCOM), Skyworks (SWKS) and Broadcom (BRCM).

But, for now at least, investors should focus more on the fiscal Q3 earnings release slated for July 24th and the pre-launch excitement for the iPhone 5.

Heading into the quarterly report, Apple watchers are tossing about gaudy numbers.

One of my favorite Apple trackers is The Mac Observer and they recently polled their readership to see how many iPads sold this past quarter. The unscientific approach yielded guess-timates of at or around 20-22 million units.

While a heady number, it may not prove far afield.

In FYQ2, the company sold 11.8 million, which is 151% more than a year ago. Last year, Apple sold 9.2 million units. If they do check in around 20 million units, it would be good for 117% growth, which is certainly within the realm of possibility.

Consider, NPD just estimated tablet sales will surge to 416 million units a year in 2017, up from 121 million this year. Over at IDC, expectations are for 2012 tablet sales clocking in at around 107 million, up from 69.6 million last year.

Given Apple's market share exited FYQ2 around 60%, we're talking a heckuva lot of devices.

And, while seasonality is at play, using NPD's numbers and current market share estimates, 20 million units isn't too ridiculous. Regardless, I'd love to hear your guesses in the comment section.

Ahead of the iPhone 5, it will be interesting to see how many iPhones were sold.

Last quarter, Apple sold 35.1 million iPhones, good for 88% growth.

In FYQ3 2011, Apple sold 20.3 million units, which was 142% higher than the prior year and well above the 67% growth for the overall smartphone market. This year, IDC estimates total smartphone sales will be up 38.8% to 686 million units. At a roughly 20% market share, Apple should be able to sell about 35 million quarterly. If they check in around there, unit volume will have grown about 75%. Of course, numbers are going to be skewed by seasonality - but, you get the gist.

Don't ignore Mac unit volume.

Investors should also avoid the temptation to focus too much on iPads and iPhones. Don't make the mistake of discounting the impact of improving laptop and desktop sales.

Apple's retail stores are a fantastic cross-seller and plenty of folks hitting the genius bar are stopping to gawk at the latest Macbooks. In fact, Apple lap and desktop volume increased to 4 million last quarter. For comparison, in the same quarter of 2010 they sold 2.95 million Macs. Last year in FYQ3, the company sold 3.95 million Macs, so we'll be looking for 4.1-4.2 million, which would be mid to high single digit growth.

Overall, investors tend to cheer FYQ3 results while eagerly embracing Apple shares ahead of the fall phone refreshes. According to data from The Seasonal Investor, Apple has traded higher in 4 of the past 5 and 9 of the past 10 Q3's, producing average returns of 10.04% and 13.99%, respectively. So, if shares trade lower it makes sense to be a buyer.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, but may initiate a long position in AAPL, SWKS over the next 72 hours.