TV takes a bite out of AT&T and Telia financials

The content business units of both the US’ AT&T and Nordics telco Telia as spreadsheets were strained during the on-going COVID-19 pandemic.

While it is becoming impossible not to mention the coronavirus outbreak at almost every turn, both the telcos have planned the crisis for the financial downturn. Although the top-line figures might show year-on-year declines, it is very difficult to hold anyone accountable as the world ponders this unforeseeable pandemic.

“The beginning of 2020 cannot be characterized as business as usual for Telia Company and society as a whole,” Telia CEO Christian Luiga said in the statement to investors. “Our financial performance is stable within our traditional telco business, with flat service revenues and an underlying growing adjusted EBITDA, whilst COVID-19 has had a negative impact on the TV & Media unit.”

“The COVID pandemic had a 5 cents per share impact on our first quarter. Without it, the quarter was about what we expected — strong wireless numbers that covered the HBO Max investment, and produced stable EBITDA and EBITDA margins,” said Randall Stephenson, AT&T and CEO.

In both of these businesses, the core business of telecommunications stood firm against testing trading conditions, but it was the content units which felt the strain. Most notably, the legacy TV services which both are attempting to shake off moving forward.

Looking at the AT&T financials, revenues fell short of analyst expectations though the coronavirus outbreak is causing chaos in the ranks. With revenues reaching $42.8 billion for the three-month period, down 4.6% year-on-year with $600 million attributed to the COVID-19 crisis. Roaming revenues were a contributing factor though the issue has been largely attributed to dampening demand for advertising.

Like many other businesses throughout the telecoms and technology world, AT&T has decided against giving any guidance for the rest of the year.

Over in Sweden with Telia, although net revenues did increase year-on-year, this is partly down to the acquisition of Bonnier Broadcasting. On a like-for-like basis, comparing what business units existed in Q1 2019, total revenues declined by 2.2%. Data usage has increased, as did wireless revenues, but it was the entertainment and TV unit which suffered.

Coronavirus has had a severe negative impact on the overall business, with demand from advertisers declining through the period. Traditional TV businesses are under considerable pressure during this crisis, quite the opposite of the fortunes being hoovered up by the streaming giants.

While it is interesting to keep an eye on the financials of the telcos during this period, it is very difficult to use these earning calls as a genuine temperature gauge.

Netflix reports surge in subscriptions and revenues thanks to COVID-19

As expected, Netflix has experienced a material benefit from many societies being placed under lockdown thanks to the on-going coronavirus pandemic.

Revenues for the three months ending March 31 stood at $5.768 billion, a 27% year-on-year increase for the quarter, while the number of subscriptions globally was up 22.8% to 182 million. With many societies forcing citizens to stay at home for the vast majority of the day, it is unsurprising Netflix is benefitting from the current situation.

Interestingly enough, Netflix also spent far less over this three-month period on marketing activities than it had before, year-on-year 18% less in fact, though any gains here were partly offset by the additional $81 million which was allocated to technology and development.

“At Netflix, we’re acutely aware that we are fortunate to have a service that is even more meaningful to people confined at home, and which we can operate remotely with minimal disruption in the short to medium term,” Netflix said in the letter to shareholders. “Like other home entertainment services, we’re seeing temporarily higher viewing and increased membership growth.

“In our case, this is offset by a sharply stronger US dollar, depressing our international revenue, resulting in revenue-as-forecast. We expect viewing to decline and membership growth to decelerate as home confinement ends, which we hope is soon.”

The issue which Netflix faces in the long-term is one of production, though this is a challenge which the entire segment is coming to terms with. All filming has effectively stopped globally, and while Netflix will have content ready to launch over the coming months, the severity of the impact to new content launches will depend on how quickly normality can return to society.

This is a risk for the industry, but it is one which can be managed to a degree. Writing can still continue, as can production of animated content, though there will certainly be an impact. However, this should be balanced by the gains which Netflix is seeing through this period of societal lock-down.

“A surge in subs is notable which will have a positive impact on revenue over subsequent quarters,” said Paolo Pescatore of PP Foresight. “Unsurprisingly, engagement is going through the roof and will proliferate over coming months.

“You should expect to see users think twice about how much they spend with their current TV provider and may cut back/substitute in preference for online video streaming services. For now the future of SVOD remains rosy.”

Ericsson CEO says company ‘not materially affected’ by coronavirus

Swedish kit vendor Ericsson is doing its AGM remotely today coz of coronavirus and CEO Börje Ekholm offered a general update ahead of it.

While he would clear far rather be talking about how great Ericsson is at 5G, there was no attempt to dodge the only story in town – the pandemic that has turned everything upside down. ”Our top priority at the moment is the health and safety of our employees, customers, and other stakeholders,” said Ekholm. “So far, we have not seen any material impact on our business, but we are closely following the developments in society.”

While that was a heavily nuanced statement, with the definition of ‘material impact’ being unclear for starters, it was encouraging to hear that things are still going OK. Having said that the really major global disruption has only been happening for a month so its effect on the Ericsson bottom line may well have been delayed.

Moving quickly on, Ekholm wasted little time in chucking some 5G numbers around, as has become the norm among the big kit vendors. “Right now we have 86 commercial 5G agreements and 27 live networks in 4 continents. Ericsson is leading the 5G development. I see no one in front of us.” Nokia’s latest total for 5G deal wins is 69 and, the last time we got an update from Huawei, its total was 91. That’s presumably a bit higher now, but we didn’t get a new number today.

Ekholm couldn’t resist a bit of patent talk, despite profound scepticism about the utility of such claims. “Ericsson’s leadership position is clearly reflected in our patent portfolio, consisting of more than 54,000 granted patents. However, patents are about both quality and quantity; an independent law firm found Ericsson to have the leading share of relevant 5G patents, which bodes very well for the future.”

The rest of his comments were designed to reassure shareholders that Ericsson is in a strong position to weather this storm. It has a few krona in the bank and feels good about 5G momentum, so fair enough. The juggling act all individuals, companies and governments have to perform at this time involves making the necessary immediate adjustments to get through the pandemic, while at the same time ensuring they’re best positioned to bounce back when things return to something approaching normal.

You can watch Ekholm’s full address, as well as the rest of the AGM material here. It’s worth doing for a reminder of what a cool language Swedish is alone, but there’s also the entertainment of checking out the interior of Ekholm’s house. Is that an Ikea chest of drawers? Probably not.

Italy proves problem child for Three Europe with 12% subs decline

Aside from Italy, subscriptions grew slightly across the Three European footprint, though a 17% increase in total revenues should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Any increase in revenues should not be snubbed of course, but what is worth noting is 2019 was the first year Three Europe felt the benefits from the additional 50% share in Wind Tre which reported solid results in the second half of 2019. The pre-existing businesses seemingly had somewhat of a difficult year.

UK Italy Sweden Denmark Austria Ireland
Revenue £2.4bn €4.9bn SEK6.6bn DKK2.2bn €867mn €603mn
Year-on-year -2% -1% -5% 0% -2% +2%
Margin £1.4bn €3.5bn SEK3.9bn DKK1.7bn €622mn €454mn
Year-on-year -3% -3% -4% +1% 0% +3%
Customers 13.7mn 23.8mn 2.1mn 1.5mn 3.7mn 3.9mn
Year-on-year +3.7% -12.2% +5% +7% 0% +8.3%
ARPU £17.79 €10.72 SEK283.22 DKK124.43 €20.62 €19.28
Year-on-year -2% -6% -6% -3% -2% -4%

Across the European footprint, total revenues increased to roughly €10.4 billion, though this is largely down to the increase stake in the Italian business. As you can see from the table above, 2019 proved to be a mixed bag for Three.

The active customer base, as of December 31, stood at 40.6 million, a 5% decrease from the same point in 2018. Aggressive competition in the Italian market was mostly to blame, though net ARPU and net AMPU across the Group also decreased by 8% and 7% to €12.94 and €11.04 respectively.

Perhaps more than anything else, these figures demonstrate the important of a diversified business and the convergence business model. Not only will these elements build customer loyalty, but ARPU can be increased with more services being offered.

One of the more common trends across the developed telecommunications markets around the world is the decreasing price of data per GB, while more customers are shifting towards unlimited data tariffs. These trends commoditise the data transmission segment but also erode profit margins.

Three is in somewhat of a difficult position, though it is certainly not alone, as many of the individual business units currently operate as a pure-play mobile telco. This looks to be a dangerous strategy to follow, as these trends are likely to accelerate rather than reverse.

There are initiatives in place to diversify revenues, Three UK is venturing into the world of fixed-wireless access (FWA), though the broadband market is already incredibly competitive. Others have also questioned the sustainability of a FWA market when fibre deployments are accelerating, and pricing also has to be very measured. Three UK currently charges £27 a month for 4G FWA, which is competitive.

Trends influencing the European business would perhaps suggest than more needs to be done to create added-value services into the mix. Content is a popular one for many telcos, though some are looking into areas such as financial services or digital security also. Partnerships are key, leaning on the expertise of other companies (Netflix or Disney+ for example) to reduce risk, and can offer recurring revenues for the telco who has the existing billing relationship with a customer.

These numbers should be considered very worrying for Three. The commoditisation of data is only going to be more aggressive as more data-intensive applications emerge and more elements of society are underpinned by digital, and it is incredibly likely more users will be paying less for data tariffs as competition inspires the race to the bottom.

Fitbit financials tumble but that might not worry Google

Fitbit might not be the profit bonanza it once was, but with sales increasing it offers Google another interface to collect data and launch new services.

Although the financial results do not seem the most attractive at first glance, it is always worth remembering what the new objective of this business is likely to be. Google acquired Fitbit in November, and while the Mountain View residents never say no to money, there is a bigger picture.

Fitbit is most likely about exposure, increasing the number of Google interfaces in society and offering more opportunity for the internet giant to create services. This is where Google’s expertise lies, in software not hardware, but it does occasionally need to encourage the development and adoption of supporting ecosystems to realise its own goals. If more smart devices are being worn by consumers, the greater the opportunity for Google to make money.

“In 2019, we continued to advance our mission of making health accessible to more people around the world by delivering devices, software and services at affordable prices that help improve peoples’ health,” said CEO James Park.

“As a result, we sold 16 million devices and our smartwatch business grew 45% at retail, due to strong demand for Versa 2. Our community of active users increased to nearly 30 million, and Fitbit Health Solutions grew 17%, underscoring the strength of the Fitbit brand.”

2019 2018 Change
Total Revenue 1,434.8 1,512 (5%)
Net Income (120.8) (320.7) (264%)
Devices Sold 16 13.9 15%
Monthly Active Users (MAUs) 29.6 27.6 7%

Figures in millions (US$)

The full year financial measurements are clearly not heading in the right direction, though part of this can be attributed to the average selling price of the devices decreasing 17% to $87. This trend is thanks to the decision to introduce more accessible and affordable devices, increase the range of devices and various promotions or offers.

Perhaps the most important statistic to note here is the number of devices sold over the period. This is up 15% on 2018, while 61% of sales came from completely new customers. For the repeat customers, 54% came from customers who were inactive during a prior period meaning Fitbit is re-engaging those it might have lost as well.

Google might have spent $2.1 billion to acquire the Fitbit business, but it was highly unlikely going to be driven by the direct revenues it would achieve. $1.434 billion is nothing to turn you nose up at, but it is a drop in the ocean if Google can scale wearable devices in the same way it has done to smart speakers.

Prior to the entry of Google and Amazon, the smart speaker segment was sluggish. Adoption was almost non-existent, and interest was even lower. But in introducing their own, more affordable, devices and very cash-intensive advertising campaigns, these two internet giants drove up engagement and sales, whilst also forcing competitors to create their own products.

Looking at the final quarter of 2019, Strategy Analytics estimates that 55 million devices were sold globally, with Google collecting a 24.9% market share. Others are catching-up, but that won’t bother Google.

The more smart devices which are in the world, the more opportunity there is for Google to own the platform which services are build on and through. Android extends the Google influence into the smartphone world, the smart speaker gives it a voice interface in multiple rooms in the home and Wear OS is a version of Google’s Android operating system designed for smartwatches and other wearables.

From here on forward, pay a bit of attention to the financials of Fitbit, but be more interested in the number of devices which are being sold and the number of customers who are signing up to not only Fitbit’s health monitoring services, but also Google’s. This is a new data treasure trove for Google and a further opportunity to monetize digital lifestyles through a new interface.

Amazon and Microsoft are proving to be a different class in the cloud game

Amazon and Microsoft have unveiled bumper financial results and now it is over to Google to prove it can keep pace with the two clear leaders in the cloud segment.

For years, it was Amazon’s cloud business unit, AWS, which was incomparable to the rest of the cloud segment. No-one could get anywhere near this trailblazer, though Microsoft has closed that gap recently. The question is whether anyone else has? The likes of Google, IBM and Oracle claim to be in the same league, but there is little evidence to support this, but Google has a chance to set the record straight next week.

Amazon and Microsoft have now revealed their numbers for the final three-month period of 2019. The story is not quite complete without Google’s numbers, realistically the only competitor who has a credible claim to be in the same league, but the numbers are eye-watering.

At group level, Amazon increased revenues by 21% during the last quarter, with the cloud business bringing in $9.9 billion, an increase of 23% year-on-year. While net income only increased 19% to $2.6 billion, this was actually 79% of the total net income across the group. The cloud business unit at AWS is a profit machine.

Over at Microsoft, group revenues increased by 14% to $36.9 billion, while net income was up 38% to $11.6 billion. Revenue in the ‘Intelligent Cloud’ unit increased 27% to $11.9 billion with Azure’s revenue up 62% for the quarter. Cloud products and services of course factor into the other Microsoft business units, but the ‘Intelligent Cloud’ group is showing the most aggressive growth.

Business unit Total revenue Growth
Intelligent Cloud $11.9 billion 27%
Productivity and Business Processes $11.8 billion 17%
More Personal Computing $13.2 billion 2%

Although revenues are only one part of the picture, market share estimates also tell another story.

Looking at the most recent estimates from Synergy Research Group, Amazon is leading the cloud segment with 39%, Microsoft sits in second with 19%, Google is on 9% and 5% for Alibaba. Salesforce now has 4% and IBM is on 3%, while no-one else has more than a 2% share. These figures are for the Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) segments.

As mentioned before, the landscape is not complete until Google releases its numbers next week, though IBM and Salesforce have released theirs. At IBM, total cloud revenues stood at $6.8 billion, up 21% year-on-year, while Salesforce reported group revenues of $4.5 billion for the last quarter, an increase of 33%. These numbers are attractive, investors might well be pleased, but Microsoft and Amazon look like they are sitting alone in the top tier of the cloud industry.

Another factor to consider are the deal wins.

While Amazon has been hoovering up deals with SMEs and the emerging digital businesses, Microsoft has extensive existing relationships with almost every major corporation in the Western world. The firm claims to currently be working with 95 of the Fortune 100 companies on cloud infrastructure. These companies like the look of Microsoft, thanks to a stronger focus on hybrid-cloud, whereas Amazon has a better reputation for the speed and scale of cloud-only strategies.

During the last period, Microsoft secured the US Department of Defense $10 billion JEDI cloud contract, which will cover 1,700 data centres and the transition of millions of devices from on-premise servers to the cloud. AWS lost out on this deal, but it has got plenty of significant customer wins to boast of; Western Union, media firm Fox, the NFL, pharmaceutical giant Novartis and Best Western Hotels & Resorts.

Interestingly enough, the rapid expansion of these internet giants might well start to encroach potential revenues which have been earmarked for the telcos.

The last few months have not only seen CAPEX investment from the likes of AWS and Microsoft, but also picking up industry executives. An excellent example of this is Alex Clauberg, a former Deutsche Telekom executive.

As the connected world starts to spread to more corners of society and the ‘edge’ develops, there are plenty of opportunities for telcos to make more money from what is quickly becoming a commoditised service. However, there is no guarantee the newly created ‘service’ revenues will be reserved for the telcos themselves. Clauberg’s move is evidence the internet players are attempting to muscle in on telco revenues.

Clauberg is a well-known name in the SDN and NFV sector and is the current Chairman of the Telecom Infra Project (TIP). He was previously VP and CTO at T-Systems International, the global services and consulting arm of DT, but now works as Solutions Architects Leader, at AWS. There is not a huge amount of information as to what this new job actually is, but it is demonstrative of the ambitions of the likes of AWS in the telco world.

These are companies which are growing rapidly in their traditional playing grounds and pushing aggressively to steal profits in places they should be considered secondary. Google still has an opportunity to place itself at the top table of the profitable cloud segment, but it does look like AWS and Microsoft are in a league of their own.

ZTE gains confidence on the back of solid earnings growth

Perhaps ZTE has just been enjoying an uncomfortable silence and an expensive milkshake in recent months, but its financials for the first half of 2019 are screaming for attention.

It is quite difficult to measure the performance of the business looking at the financials alone, ZTE found itself in the Trump crosshairs in H1 2018, though the team is hyping itself up now, seemingly to gain attention in a very noisy segment. ZTE is often overlooked when considering the major network infrastructure vendors, but it certainly does warrant mention.

Revenues for the first half of 2019 stood at roughly $6.23 billion, up 13.1% year-on-year, profits increased a massive 118% to $210 million. The team is now forecasting profits between $530-640 million for the first nine months of the year.

These numbers might sound very impressive, but it was at this point last year when President Trump and his administration targeted ZTE. In May 2018, ZTE announced its major operating activities had ceased after the US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) placed an export ban on the vendor. Without the US complement in the ZTE supply chain, the firm was almost extinct, though concessions were made and now it appears it is business as usual.

This is why the year-on-year gains are largely irrelevant. ZTE was a shell of a company at this point last year, fighting for its very survival.

That said, the company is surging towards the 5G finish line just like its rivals, and now it needs to convince potential customers it is a stable, reliable and innovative partner. Being selected to supply equipment to any telco will be after intense scrutiny, and thus the charm offensive has begun.

First of all, lets start with the R&D spend. ZTE has suggested it has spent roughly $900 million on R&D for the first six months of 2019, a 14.5% ratio of the total revenues for the period. This is an increase from the 12.8% share of the same period of 2018, with the new figure just ahead of the 13.8% share of revenues (estimate) Huawei allocated to R&D last year. The domestic rival has promised to increase this figure by 15-20% for 2019, though the overall percentage will not be known until the full year financial figures are known.

In comparison, Ericsson said it attributed 18.5% of net sales revenue to R&D over the course of 2018, a figure which increased to 18.7% by the end of the first six months of 2019. At Nokia, 18.4% of net sales revenues were directed towards the R&D department for the first six months of this year.

This part of the business has largely been focusing on the development of basic operating systems, distributed databases and core chipsets most recently. The company has completed the design and mass production of the 7nm chipsets, while it is currently undergoing the R&D phase for 5nm chipsets.

All this work has resulted in 3,700 5G patents being granted to the firm, though this number might notably increase in the near future. ZTE has also said it is partnering with various Chinese universities to source 5,000 new employees to bolster the R&D ranks. Once again, these are numbers which are being cast into the public domain to enhance the reputation of the business at a time where vendors are facing scrutiny at an unprecedented level.

Of course, when we are talking about creating a perception of stability and reliability, as well as increased scrutiny, you have to discuss security.

ZTE might have managed to avoid US aggression over the last couple of months, Huawei has been the primary target, but as a partly state-owned entity, such questions will never be that far away. This is where the cybersecurity centres will play an important role.

Opened in Nanjing, Rome and Brussels, the cybersecurity centres will allow potential customers to test and validate the security credentials of the firm prior to installing any equipment or software in the network. Some will not be convinced this is a fool-proof way to ensure resilience, though it is an act of transparency which the industry and governments have been crying out for.

The result of this work is 60 memorandums of understanding (MoU) with telcos around the world, 50 5G demonstrations in 20 industry verticals, 300 strategic collaborations and 200 5G products to date.

It is often easy to overlook ZTE and designate the firm as a poor man’s version of 5G network infrastructure, but the numbers justify inclusion at the top table. The challenge which ZTE now faces it making prominent strides into Western markets, the very ones which are getting twitchy over security and price today.

Cisco hits expectations once again, but disappoints on forecast

Cisco has released financials for the final three-month period of 2018, beating market expectations for the 21st consecutive quarter.

He might not be the most flamboyant of CEOs, but like Satya Nadella over at Microsoft, Chuck Robbins is letting the business do the talking. Since his appointment in 2015, the vendor has gone from strength-to-strength, with these results adding another feather to the cap.

Looking at the financials, total revenue for the three months reached $13.4 billion a 5% year-on-year increase, while net income was down 42% to $2.2 billion. Although the latter figure might shock some, CFO Kelly Kramer has suggested this is only a blip on the radar, with the hole attributable to US Treasury Regulations issued during the quarter relating to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

In terms of the numbers across the year, total revenues stood at $51.7 billion, up 7%, while net income was $13.8 billion, an increase of 9% compared to the previous year.

However, it is not all glimmering news.

“Let me reiterate our guidance for the first quarter of fiscal ’20,” Kramer said during the earnings call. “We expect revenue growth in the range of 0% to 2% year over year.”

Considering the ambitious plans set-forward by the business over the last few years, this would not seem to be the most generous of forecasts. The dampened forecast might well disappoint a few investors. What is worth noting, it that despite having strong and stable foundations, Cisco is not immune to global trends.

Looking at the telco customers, Asia is demonstrating weakening demand for Cisco. The China telco business is weakening, while demand in India has dropped off as aggressive network roll-outs in 2018 are not being replicated today.

In terms of working with enterprise customers, the team had two major software deals in 2018 which are “tough to compare against”, according to Robbins, while the Chinese and UK markets are demonstrating weakened positions thanks to events which are outside of the control of the team. No prizes for guessing what those events might be.

What is worth noting is that while it is easy to point the finger of blame towards China in the current political climate, take    this explanation from Robbins and Kramer with a pinch of salt. Cisco’s revenues in China might have declined by 25% this year, though the market only accounts for less than 3% of total revenues.

Cisco is no different from any other vendor in the telco space right now. It might be performing healthily, though it is reliant on telcos getting their act together and pushing network investments forward. The 5G bonanza to boost profitability in the telco ecosystem is yet to appear, though there are hints it might be just around the corner (as always…).

“I would say don’t anticipate that being a huge profit driver off of the 5G transition that’s going to come when they build more robust broader 5G infrastructure where they’ll deliver enterprise services and that’s going to come after they do the consumer side,” Robbins said.

“So, it’s a bit unclear when that will take place. I’d say we’re not modelling and don’t anticipate any significant improvement in this business in the very near term.”

This is where the 5G hype can be slightly misleading. There are of course telcos who are surging ahead, but these are only a fraction of the networks around the world. It is promising, but the market leaders or fast followers are not going to flood vendors bank accounts with profits.

There are numerous markets who are still in the testing phases of 5G, with the telcos aiming to figure out the commercial business model to make the vast investments in future-proofed markets work. When we start getting to the steep rises of the bell curve, this is where the profits will start rolling in.

That seems to be the message from the Cisco management team today; we’re in a healthy position, but don’t expect this quarter to blow anyone’s mind away. The 5G euphoria is on the horizon, but investors will have to wait just a little bit longer.

Ofcom fines BT for suspect accounting

Ofcom has fined BT £3,727,330 for reporting inaccurate financials to the regulator, leading to the telco paying lower administration fees to the regulator for five years.

One of the ways in which Ofcom funds its activities is to charge certain companies an annual administration fee. This fee is determined by the total revenues generated by the company. As BT reported inaccurate results between 2011 and 2015, it paid lower administration fees throughout this period.

BT has not contested the fine, and the full sum had been paid to Ofcom on July 29.

“BT’s cooperation with Ofcom in relation to this investigation has been extensive and productive,” Ofcom said in the report.

“Upon discovery of its error, BT informed Ofcom and committed to remedying the consequences of its error. BT has also undertaken extensive work to ensure that its final resubmitted turnover is complete and accurate; had Ofcom had to carry out this work itself, it is likely to have required significant resource and time to complete.”

Although BT does not have the most glimmering record when it comes to accounting in recent years, the telco did own up to the error rather than Ofcom being informed by a whistle-blower.

The error seems to have been identified by BT Group CFO Simon Lowth, who had only been in the role for a year at the time. In September 2017, documents were submitted to Lowth to review the submission of annual turnover for 2016. Upon reviewing the document, Lowth ordered an investigation into the previous submissions dating back to the original General Demand for Information in 2011.

BT believes the oversight was down to human error, an employee misunderstanding the data sources used, though it still does not the most complementary light on the accounting practices of the business.

Aside from this oversight, BT is still reeling from the Italian accounting scandal which was unearthed in 2016. The fraud cost the company more than £530 million, with £8 billion being wiped off the telcos market value in a single day. US investors, represented by law firm Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd, have recently announced a lawsuit to recover some of the losses.

The £3,727,330 fine might be considered a relatively lenient one, though generally regulators are kinder to the guilty party if it admits to wrong-doing without prompt. The sum was calculated by adding the deficit to interest payments. The Bank of England base interest rate during the 2011-15 period was increased by 1% to get the total.

It is difficult to blame the current management team and workforce for this error, it would have been prior to the tenure of many employees, though it does not reflect well on a company which is attempting to prove it is a successful business.

Apple and Samsung both had a mixed second quarter

While Apple registered modest growth, with the strong performance of Services compensating the declining iPhone sales, Samsung’s revenue and profit continued to plummet, thanks to weakness in the semiconductor market.

Apple’s Q2 2019 results (its financial Q3 2019) were respectable, if not exciting. The total sales went up by 1% to $53.8 billion from $53.3 billion a year ago, therefore making it the company’s record June quarter in terms of revenue. Gross margin slightly declined from 38.3% to 37.6%, and the operating margin dropped from 23.7% to 21.5%.

The iPhone contributed almost $26 billion, a decline of 12% from $29.5 billion the same quarter in 2018. This represented the first quarter when the iPhone accounts less than half of the total revenues since 2012. Notably, the iPhone is the only product category that reported year-on-year decline this quarter, with growth reported in Mac (+10.7%), iPad (+8.4%), Wearables, Home and Accessorie (+48%), and Services (12.6%). The $11.5 billion revenue generated by Services now accounts for 21.3% of the company’s total income.

“These results are promising across all our geographic segments, and we’re confident about what’s ahead,” said Tim Cook, the CEO. “The balance of calendar 2019 will be an exciting period, with major launches on all of our platforms, new services and several new products.”

If by “promising” Cook meant decelerated decline, he was right. Apple’s revenues continued to drop in Europe (-1.8%) and Greater China (-4.1%), the second and third largest markets after the Americas, albeit at a slower pace. Greater China would have registered a growth on constant currency, Cook insisted.

When it comes to the “balance of calendar 2019”, Apple gave a guidance showing mild improvement in Q3 (its financial Q4). The midpoint guidance points to a 16% growth in revenue, largely similar gross margin (38%), similar operating expenses, implying an improved operating margin of about 24%.

While the iPhone’s shrinking contribution may be expected, the strong performance of Services was encouraging. The company claimed it now had 480 million subscriptions across all its service portfolio, and both Apple Pay and the ad income from App Store search delivered triple-digit growth. The 3rd-party subscription revenue generated by the App Store went up by 40%. The Service growth momentum is likely to be further strengthened by the launch of the video streaming service Apple TV+ and the subscription gaming service Apple Arcade in the next quarter. The Services strength helped lift Apple’s share price by 4.2% pre-market.

Apple 2019_Q2A

Apple 2019_Q2B

A few hours later Samsung Electronics announced its less impressive though not surprising Q2 numbers. The company continued to see its profit plummeting by more than half, a trend we have seen in the preceding quarters, and largely in line with the profit warning the company published earlier this month. The total revenues declined by 4% to KRW 56.13 trillion ($47 billion) with the operating profit coming in at KRW6.6 trillion ($5.6 billion), down from KRW14.87 trillion ($13 billion) a year ago, indicating an operating margin of 11.8%, down from 25.4%. The net profit of KRW 5.18 trillion ($4.4 billion) represented a 53% decline from Q2 2018.

Not everything is bleak. IT & Mobile Communications division, Samsung’s largest revenue generator and which includes Samsung’s mobile handset business, reported a 7.8% sales growth although the operating margin declined by 41.5%. The revenue growth was largely driven by the strong sales of the Galaxy A series geared towards the young users. This has helped Samsung gain market share in a contracting smartphone market. On the other hand, the flagship Galaxy S10 series have met “weak sales momentum”, the company conceded. Recently Samsung announced that it has fixed the problem with the Galaxy S10 Fold and is now ready to launch it in “select markets”.

Continued to be worrying is the Display and Semiconductor business division, the biggest profit generator for Samsung. Despite that the display panel business turned profitable after making loss in Q1, weakness in the memory chip segment drove the operating profit down by 71%, on the basis of a revenue decline of 27%, indicating strong price pressure. This has led to the data centre customers to continue to adjust the inventory levels, Samsung claimed.

Another uncertain, though Samsung did not explicitly discuss, is the on-going trade dispute with Japan, which has resulted in trade embargo on the export of selected high-end equipment from a few Japanese companies. This could potentially impact Samsung’s plan to deliver the more advanced semiconductors in the second half of this year. Samsung insisted that it did “see 2H demand recovery” though.

At the time of writing Samsung’s share price was down by 2.6%.

Samsung 2019_2Q