Wall Street excited about China Mobile's iPhone launch, but Apple's margins will be scrutinized

Posted:
in AAPL Investors edited January 2014
With the iPhone just days away from arriving on China Mobile, analysts' relief at the long-rumored deal's consummation is paired with curiosity about what concessions Apple may have made to strike an accord with the world's largest wireless carrier.

China Mobile


The "details of the agreement (pricing, margin, etc) are unknown and, thus, we believe gross margin bears watching," Wells Fargo's Maynard Um wrote in a Wednesday morning note to investors that was provided to AppleInsider. Whispers of a pairing between Apple and China Mobile date back to 2008, and Um appears to believe the iPhone maker could have ceded ground on financial terms in order to finally secure the contract.

If Apple's margins --?which the company forecasts to be between 36.5 percent and 37.5 percent for the current fiscal quarter -- do decline as a result of the deal, there could be several possible explanations.

Apple may have simply agreed to discount all or a portion of the handsets sold by China Mobile in order to relieve the high cost of subsidizing the devices, a point of contention with other iPhone carriers in the past. Alternatively, the company could have acquiesced to a revenue sharing arrangement, similar to an agreement reached with Chinese search engine Baidu in 2012.

China Mobile's customer base, which generally skews toward a less-affluent demographic, could also opt for the lower-margin iPhone 5c over the more profitable iPhone 5s. Though the cheaper iPhone 5c retails for $100 less than the 5s, it reportedly costs Apple just $25 less to manufacture.

The margin issue aside, Um reiterated his belief that the China Mobile partnership will drive a significant overall boost in unit sales and may help to alleviate the iPhone's typical post-Christmas slump.

Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster, in a similarly-timed missive, expressed renewed confidence in the bank's own predictions after China Mobile Chairman Xi Guohua's remark that the carrier had received "several million" pre-orders for Apple's handsets. Munster previously forecast sales of 3 million iPhone units through China Mobile for the second quarter of 2014, adding an additional five percent to Apple's revenue for the year.

Overall, investors remain bullish on the pact's potential for Apple. Cantor Fitzgerald's Brian White believes China Mobile was "worth the wait" for investors, anticipating sales of between 20 million and 24 million additional devices in 2014. J.P Morgan's Mark Moskowitz pegs the number at a more conservative 2 million per quarter, while Cowen and Company's Timothy Acuri places his estimate at 20 million to 30 million.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 38
    dimmokdimmok Posts: 359member

    Fak....damned if you do...damned if you dont. 

  • Reply 2 of 38
    They can afford to discount it on the basis that the transport costs can't be up to much!
  • Reply 3 of 38

    Jesus Christ. If there are any more conceivable ways to dump on Apple, I'm not interested.

  • Reply 4 of 38
    cintoscintos Posts: 113member
    Perhaps politically incorrect ( something Apple will certainly not admit ), but there is no reason to believe the appearance of iPhones at China Mobile is driven by anything more than what drove Verizon and DoCoMo to eventually support it: customer demand. The Carriers have never liked the iPhone ecosystem package, which interposed the iTunes store between them and their customers. Prior to the iPhone, carriers could mandate what and when their customers would see in cell phone feature/function. Conversely, they can control the Android ecosystem with imbedded apps and wrappers, and decide when upgrades are passed out to their customers (which is one reason only 2% of Android users are on the latest version, vs >80% of iOS users).
  • Reply 5 of 38

    I'd like to know if any special deal was struck on the iOS App Store. Are apps censored? Are profits split with China Mobile? Are the App Store data centers located in China?

  • Reply 6 of 38
    herbapouherbapou Posts: 2,223member

    Wow, they are really going out of there way to find some kind of negative spin about this.

  • Reply 7 of 38
    jungmarkjungmark Posts: 6,719member
    Ok so this week it's worries about margins. Next week it'll be worries about market share (ie need for a low cost/low margin iPhone). Fuk off, you corrupt analysts.
  • Reply 8 of 38

    See - they have been right all along.  Any number of people over many years have pointed out that "Apple is doomed."

     

    This is just another nail in the coffin.  

     

    Apple is doomed.

  • Reply 9 of 38
    I'd like to know if any special deal was struck on the iOS App Store. Are apps censored? Are profits split with China Mobile? Are the App Store data centers located in China?
    Censored apps are almost a given.
  • Reply 10 of 38
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Lord Amhran View Post





    Censored apps are almost a given.

     

    Another question:  Are there China-only apps?

  • Reply 11 of 38
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Lord Amhran View Post

     
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by SpamSandwich View Post



    I'd like to know if any special deal was struck on the iOS App Store. Are apps censored? Are profits split with China Mobile? Are the App Store data centers located in China?


    Censored apps are almost a given.

    Apple censors apps too. No big deal.

  • Reply 12 of 38
    solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    So this whole "Apple needs a cheaper iPhone" talk was so they then could blast Apple for having lower margins and per-unit profit? Awesome¡
  • Reply 13 of 38
    Another question:  Are there China-only apps?
    My guess would be yes. The Weibo blogs probably have apps and Government approved apps almost assuredly.
  • Reply 14 of 38
    bobschlobbobschlob Posts: 1,074member

    I'm sorry but announcing the start of sales of the iPhone on China Mobile ("uh… but were not going to tell you the price of them") is just a bad move.

    No two ways about it.

  • Reply 15 of 38
    So the analysts range from 8 million iPhones to 30 million. In other words the have no idea what the market is. If I was that far out in my estimates at work I would lose my job very quickly.
  • Reply 16 of 38
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by BobSchlob View Post

     

    I'm sorry but announcing the start of sales of the iPhone on China Mobile ("uh… but were not going to tell you the price of them") is just a bad move.

    No two ways about it.


    Yup, you’re right. It’s that bad move that made the stock go up 11 bucks today.

     

    I want more such bad moves….:rolleyes:

  • Reply 17 of 38
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Crosslad View Post



    So the analysts range from 8 million iPhones to 30 million. In other words the have no idea what the market is. If I was that far out in my estimates at work I would lose my job very quickly.

    Agreed. I don't see why someone couldn't do a decent consumer survey. The results would surely be worth a lot?

  • Reply 18 of 38
    dasanman69dasanman69 Posts: 12,985member
    herbapou wrote: »
    Wow, they are really going out of there way to find some kind of negative spin about this.

    Apple (we don't give in to carriers) giving concessions to a carrier doesn’t seem like a negative to you? Let me guess "they'll make it up in volume".
  • Reply 19 of 38

    "Munster ... forecast sales of 3 million for the second quarter..."

     

    "Mark Moskowitz ... a more conservative 2 million per quarter..."

     


    "Brian White ... anticipating sales of between 20 million and 24 million..."

     

    "Timothy Acuri ... estimate at 20 million to 30 million."

     

    In other words, none of them has a clue and really, they're all just guessing?

     

    From 2 million per quarter (8 million for the year) to 30 million (almost 8 million per quarter) for the year.  And pretty much everything in between when you add the rest of the yammering Analyst class.

     

    How nice to be paid to guess. Where do I sign up? I'm pretty good at guessing!!

  • Reply 20 of 38
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by dasanman69 View Post





    Apple (we don't give in to carriers) giving concessions to a carrier doesn’t seem like a negative to you? Let me guess "they'll make it up in volume".

     

    Well, considering that the entire article is predicated on a FUD-based supposition, I wouldn't go off into negative spin-land with it...

     

    Where has Apple given concessions exactly? Small details here and there, I'm sure. That's called "negotiating". But they've held the line on what gets preloaded, carrier control of the device behavior, etc. I would absolutely not assume that Apple has "caved" in areas they consider sacrosanct.

     

    Yes, Apple throwing in the towel and giving lower margins, more content control, etc. etc. could be negative. Sure. IF...

     

    Read the article carefully. You'll see that the words "IF Apple's margins do decline..." are the opening premise. The entire supporting premise is "IF".

     

    I don't go negative on "IF" much. I certainly don't sell off my stock because of someone says "IF..." And it's certainly not worth getting one's knickers in a twist over it, considering how all over the map the "analyst" estimates are on every aspect of Apple.

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