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On Apple's earnings day, Wall Street expects both pain and a plan

Image: Apple CEO Tim Cook responds to a question during a news conference
Apple CEO Tim Cook at a news conference at IBM Watson headquarters, in New York. Copyright Richard Drew AP file
Copyright Richard Drew AP file
By Alyssa Newcomb with NBC News Tech and Science News
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"Apple needs to turn this dark chapter around, and Wall Street will be listening to every word carefully," said one analyst.


SAN FRANCISCO — Investors are bracing themselves today for the disappointing results that Apple's Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook warned about. Cook dropped a bombshell earlier this month when he downgraded the company's forecast, projecting lackluster earnings for its first quarter 2019 results, which will be released on Tuesday afternoon.

Wall Street is expecting Apple to report revenue of $84 billion, down from the forecasted $89 billion to $93 billion guidance issued in the company's last earnings call.

In a Jan. 2 letter to investors, Cook said unexpected slowing sales in emerging markets was partly the reason for the decline. But Apple is also likely to cite trade tensions with China, according to analysts.

"I am expecting Apple to give finer granularity on its warning from the first week of January," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. "The company will place most of the blame on the China economy and will play up its success in North America and Western Europe."

Daniel Ives, managing director at Wedbush Securities, said he expects earnings per share to hit at $4.17.

Ives said China has remained "the albatross around tech's neck" as companies figure out how to enter and make a footprint in the market. Apple, in particular, is "caught in the eye of the storm," he said, since it competes with homegrown competitors, such as Huawei.

This earnings call will also be different, since Apple will no longer disclose how many units it has sold of each of its products, including the iPhone. In the U.S., data from the past three years shows that iPhone sales have been mostly flat as more people hold on to their smartphones, especially after carriers started charging retail price for the phones.

Apple has also faced criticism for releasing premium, more expensive smartphone models, crossing well over the $1,000 threshold and pricing out people who may be in the market for a new iPhone but can no longer afford one.

Moorhead said he's looking for Apple to provide guidance about its plans for the next generation of iPhones, which are usually announced every September.

"I am hopeful [Apple] will give some indication of whether it would consider another lower-priced handset like the SE," he said.

Apple was riding high last year and in August became the first publicly traded company to reach a $1 trillion valuation. However, Apple lost that crown in November and its valuation has taken a tumble to around $730 billion.

Microsoft, which has a reputation as the older, less hip sibling of Apple, is now the world's most valuable publicly traded company, with a valuation of $805 billion, thanks to the strength of its cloud business.

"Apple needs to turn this dark chapter around and it starts with earnings on Tuesday, as the Street will be listening to every word carefully from Cook," said Ives.

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