SingTel saw Q4 profit drop by 14%

SingTel reported almost flat revenues and 14% decline in net profit in the quarter ending 31 December 2018, blaming negative influence from its investments in Australia and India.

In its quarterly results announcement, SingTel reported a 1% year-on-year growth in revenues to S$ 4.626 billion (1 Singapore $ = 0.74 US$), or 4% in constant currency, but 11% decline in EBITDA, and 14% decline in net profit. The first nine months of FY2019 saw revenues almost unchanged (up by 0.2%) of the same period the previous year, EBITDA down by 8%, and net profit down by 51%. The total free cash flow is still solid at S$2.5 billion although it went down by 10% from a year ago.

“We have stayed the course despite heightened competition and challenging market and economic conditions. We’ve continued to add postpaid mobile customers across our core business in both Singapore and Australia while making positive strides in the ICT and digital space,” said Chua Sock Koong, Singtel Group CEO. “We remain focused on investing in networks and building our digital capabilities – areas that are important to our customers and our future success. We will also step up on managing costs, growing revenues and driving efficiencies through increased digitalisation efforts.”

The key factor that impacted the results was the return on its investment in regional associates. The total profit before tax (PBT) in its regional associate portfolio went down by 35% to S$342 million. The worst hit was Airtel, which suffered a S$167 million decline in PBT and registered a pre-tax loss of S$129 million. When broken down to different markets, Airtel fared better in Africa but came under “continued pricing pressures” (from Jio)

In Australia, SingTel’s subsidiary Optus has delivered a healthy growth of 16% in total revenues  to A$1.64 billion (1 Australian $ = 0.71 US$). The mobile operator also switched on Australis’s first commercial 5G network in January. The slower than expected migration to NBN by broadband users, however, has brought in a 9% decline in mass market fixed revenue.

Despite lowering its outlook for the full financial year (ending 31 March) from stable EBITDA to single digital decline, SingTel was still confident in its long-term prospective. “Our long-term view on our regional associates remains positive as they continue to ride the growth in data and execute well against the challenges and competition,” added Chua, the CEO. “We expect the regional markets to revert to more sustainable market structures and deliver long-term profitable growth. Meanwhile, we are working closely with them to build a regional ecosystem of digital services that leverages the Group’s strengths and unlocks the value of our joint mobile customer base of over 675 million.”

 SingTel 3QFY2019 results

UK and US smartphone markets in steep decline

The latest numbers from industry trackers Strategy Analytics reveal UK smartphone shipments fell 14% in Q4 2018.

The main culprit seems to be UK smartphone market leader Apple, which seems to be having a bit of a nightmare all over the world right now. Apple shipped 700,000 fewer iPhones in Q4 2018 than it did in the year ago quarter, which is a drop of 19%. Second placed Samsung suffered a similar decline, dropping 400k shipments. This placed Huawei actually managed to increase its shipments by 200k, which meant it stole a big chunk of market share from the big two.

“Despite fear of trade wars and Brexit, Huawei has cracked the UK smartphone market,” SA’s Neil Mawston told Telecoms.com. “If current growth trends continue, Huawei will overtake Samsung as the number two UK smartphone player later this year. Samsung’s UK smartphone marketshare has halved in the past five years, and it must take urgent steps to arrest the decline, before it is too late, but he ‘big 3′ brands still made up three in four of all smartphones sold in the UK last year.”

“UK smartphone shipments declined 14 percent annually from 8.5 million units in Q4 2017 to 7.3 million in Q4 2018,” said Rajeev Nair of SA. “United Kingdom is the largest smartphone market in Western Europe and it is suffering from weak sales, due to longer replacement rates, a lack of wow designs, and Brexit uncertainty causing consumers to hold off on some new purchases.”

“Samsung clung on to second place with 19 percent smartphone marketshare in the UK during Q4 2018, down from 21 percent a year ago,” said Woody Oh of SA. “Samsung is facing intense competitive pressure from Huawei, who is targeting Samsung’s core segments in the midrange and premium-tier with popular models such as the P20. Huawei’s UK smartphone marketshare has leapt from 8 percent in Q4 2017 to 12 percent in Q4 2018. Huawei is growing fast in the UK, due to heavy co-marketing of its models with major carriers like EE.”

 

UK Smartphone Shipments (Millions of Units) Q4 ’17 Q4 ’18 Growth YoY (%)
Apple 3.7 3.0 -19%
Samsung 1.8 1.4 -22%
Huawei 0.7 0.9 36%
Others 2.3 2.0 -15%
Total 8.5 7.3 -14%
UK Smartphone Vendor Marketshare (%) Q4 ’17 Q4 ’18
Apple 43.5% 41.1%
Samsung 21.2% 19.2%
Huawei 7.8% 12.3%
Others 27.5% 27.4%
Total 100.0% 100.0%
Source: Strategy Analytics

SA has also been looking at the US market recently and while the shipment decline is even worse on the other side of the pond, seems that Google’s Pixel brand is starting to get some serious traction over there.

“Google’s Pixel 3 range benefited from weakness at Apple, Samsung, ZTE and others,” blogged Mawston. “Apple saw longer replacement rates, due to its battery-replacement program encouraging owners to hold on to existing iPhones for longer. Samsung struggled, due to soft sales of the flagship Galaxy S9 model. ZTE was shunned by authorities and carriers and demand for its smartphones collapsed. Google Pixel 3 is starting to resonate with US consumers who are searching for something new, such as eSIM connectivity or AI.

SA Q4 2018 US smartphone chart

Legere and T-Mobile running riot again

He might be wild-eyed, egotistical and unconventional, but you can’t argue with the results T-Mobile US CEO John Legere is delivering shareholders.

Reporting 2018 full year financials, T-Mobile US has continued the rip-roaring success of the last few years. Total revenues for 2018 finished at $43.3 billion, up 7% year-on-year, alongside 7 million net customer additions, 4.5 million of which were in the lucrative branded postpaid segment.

“This never gets old,” Legere proclaimed. “T-Mobile finished another year with record breaking financials and our best-ever customer growth. Record revenues, strong net income, record Adjusted EBITDA, our lowest-ever Q4 postpaid phone churn that was better than AT&T for the very first time.

“T-Mobile is competing hard and winning customers – and we continue to deliver results beyond expectations. Our 2019 guidance shows that we expect our incredible standalone momentum to continue.”

All this, and the telco still hasn’t launched the much-anticipated TV offering.

When Legere first walked into the room as CEO in September 2012 investor jaws must have hit the floor. This is not a man who looks like a business leader in one of the most risk-adverse and stuffy industries on the planet, and when the first Uncarrier move was announced in 2013, a few must have been close to passing out.

Going against everything which everyone knew in the industry, March 2013 saw the introduction of the first Uncarrier offer. A new streamlined plan for customers which dropped contracts, subsidized phones, coverage fees for data, and early termination fees. This was certainly a break from the status quo and since this point numerous new Uncarrier moves have been introduced almost doubling revenues (2012 full year was $22.5 billion). It might not be traditional, but this is a success story like few others.

At the end of the three-month period, T-Mobile had a total of 79.6 million customers and a postpaid churn rate of 0.99%. This is still a company which should be considered a challenger, but T-Mobile US is making steady progress. It is not accelerating towards the leadership duo of Verizon and AT&T, but it certainly is not slowing up either. The big question is whether this momentum can be maintained.

With 5G on the horizon, the team certainly have the raw materials to create another few Uncarrier plays. Deployment of 600 MHz is setting the scene for a launch, with the team promising the network will be ready for the introduction of the first standards-based 5G smartphones in 2019. By the end of 2018, T-Mobile US claims to have cleared spectrum for approximately 135 million POPs and with the ambition to clear spectrum covering 272 million POPs by the end of 2019.

All this and the team still hasn’t done anything with the Layer123 purchase of December 2017. Alas, a TV Uncarrier move is just something we’ll have to look forward to over the next couple of months.

If you thought your January was tough, Vodafone Idea just lost 35mn subs

Most people consider January one of the worst months of the year, but Vodafone Idea could potentially trump your misery after reporting a year-on-year decline of 35 million subscriptions.

As is now commonplace with any CEO of a major business, Balesh Sharma was all a twirl spinning off the tough times of the quarter as positives, and in fairness there are some valid points. From a financial perspective, total revenues decreased 2% year-on-year to roughly £1.27 billion, while total subscriptions declined from 422.3 million in Q3 to 387.2 million for the last three months.

“We are progressing well on our stated strategy,” said Sharma. “The initiatives taken during the quarter started showing encouraging trends by the end of the quarter.

“We are moving faster than expected on integration, specifically on the network front, and we are well on track to deliver our synergy targets. We remain focused on fortifying our position in key districts by expanding the coverage and capacity of our 4G network, and target a higher share of new 4G customers, while offering an enhanced network experience to our customers. The proceeds from the announced capital raise will put us in a strong position to achieve our strategic goals.”

Looking at Sharma’s reasons, firstly on the revenues it might not be as bad as it looks. The most recent figures are being compared to a period where the two firms accounting policies were not aligned, while there was always going to be a bit of heavy going through the initial integration process. On the subscriptions front, the team blamed the fact that various customers consolidated spending from multiple to single SIMs.

On the 4G side of things, the total subscription base did increase to 75.3 million, up 9.5 million during the quarter, while coverage has also increased. The combined business is starting to generate notable benefits, national roaming was introduced on both networks, with each brand now offering 4G across all 22 service regions. During the three months, 11,123 4G sites were added to the network.

At first glance, this might not be the most comfortable reading, but you have to bear in mind this is a business which is starting to find its feet. Merging two businesses is never the easiest of jobs, but with the threat of Reliance Jio causing havoc everywhere Indian telco executives look, the pressure is certainly higher.

Reliance Jio has forced evolution onto the Indian telco industry, with victims scattered all over the landscape. The Telenor evacuation was first, Airtel is flagging, Reliance Communications has been decimated and the merger between Vodafone and Idea was the other major casualty. The team has to be given time to create a business which can provide suitable resistance to the Reliance Jio momentum, but Sharma will be wary he doesn’t have much.

Google investors slightly spooked by free-spending execs

Revenues might well be booming again at Google, but it seems shareholders are slightly concerned by increased costs, which is one of the fastest growing columns in the spreadsheet.

Looking at the final quarter, revenues stood at $39.3 billion, up 22% year-on-year, though traffic acquisition costs (TAC), what Google pays to make sure it is the dominant search engine across all platforms, operating systems and devices, were up by over $1 billion. Cost-per-click on Google properties were also down. A glimmering ray of sunshine was higher-than-expected seasonal growth for premium YouTube products and services.

Total revenues for 12 months ending December 31 stood at $136.8 billion, up 23% over 2017, while net income was back up to the levels which one would expect at Google, raking in $30.7 billion. The company is not growing as quickly as it used to, while expenses are starting to stack up. Investors clearly aren’t the happiest of bunnies as share price declined 3.1% in overnight trading.

“Operating expenses were $13.2 billion, up 27% year-over-year,” said Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat. “The biggest increase was in R&D expenses, with the larger driver being headcount growth, followed by the accrual of compensation expenses to reflect increases in the valuation of equity in certain Other Bets.

“Growth in Sales and marketing expenses reflect increases in sales and marketing headcount primarily for Cloud and Ads followed by advertising investments mainly in Search and the Assistant.”

Headcount by the end of the last period was up by more than 18,000 employees to 98,771. While CEO Sundar Pichai was keen to point out the business is continuing to invest in improving its core search product, diversification efforts into areas such as the smart speaker market, cloud and artificial intelligence are hitting home. Perhaps investors have forgotten what it’s like to search for the next big idea.

For years, Google plundering the bank accounts with little profit to offer. These days are a long-distant memory, but it is the same for every business which is targeting astronomical growth. You have to perfect the product and then scale. A dip in share price perhaps indicates shareholders have forgotten this concept, but Google is doing the right thing for everyone involved.

Some businesses search for differentiation and diversification when they have to, some do it because they have ambition to remain on top. Those who are searching because they have to are most likely reporting static or declining numbers each month and did not have the vision to see the good days would not last forever. Google is pumping cash into the next idea so when growth in its core business starts to flatten, something else can pick up the slack and pull the business towards more astronomical growth.

This is what is so remarkable about the ‘other bets’ column on the spreadsheets. It might have costs growth every single year, as does the wider R&D column, but having graduated the cloud computing business and most recently Loon, there are businesses which will start to contribute more than they are detracting. This is a company which never sits still, and this is why it is one of the most admired organizations from an entrepreneurial perspective. Shareholders might do well remembering this every now and then.

Looking at joy around the world for the final quarter, US revenues were $18.7 billion, up 21% year-over-year, while EMEA brought in $12.4 billion, up 20% and APAC accounted for $6.1 billion, up 29%. Revenues in LATAM were $2.2 billion, up 16% year-over-year. APAC and LATAM were subject to negative FX fluctuations, particularly in Australia, Brazil and Argentina.

In the specific business units, Google Sites revenues were $27 billion in the quarter, up 22%, with mobile collecting the lion’s share, though YouTube and Desktop contributing growth also. Cloud, Hardware and Play drove the growth in the ‘other’ revenues for Google, collecting $6.5 billion, up 31% year-over-year for the final quarter.

Although these diversification efforts are growing positively, there are also some risks to bear in mind. Firstly, the cloud computing business is losing pace with Microsoft and AWS. Google is making investments to attempt to buy its way through the chasm, but it will be tough going as both these businesses make positive steps forward also.

Secondly, some properties and developers are choosing to circumnavigate the Google Play Store, instead taking their titles direct to the consumer. This is only a minor segment of the pie for the moment and there will be a very small proportion of the total who actually have the footprint to do this (Fortnite for example), though it is a trend the team will want to keep an eye on. Perhaps the 30% commission Google charges developers will be reconsidered to stem dissenting ideas.

Finally, the data sharing economy which will sit behind the smart speaker and smart home ecosystem is facing a possible threat. Google will not make the desired billions from hardware sales, but it will from the operating systems and virtual assistant powering the devices. Collecting referral fees and connecting buyers with sellers is what Google does very well, though this business model might be under threat from new data protection and privacy regulations.

The final one is not just a challenge to the potential billions hidden between the cushions in the smart home’s virtual sofa, but the entire internet economy. GDPR complaints are currently being considered and potential consequences to how personal data is collected, processed and stored are already being considered. The Google lawyers will have to be on tip-top form to minimise the disruption to the business, and wider data sharing economy.

Costs might be up and while there are dark clouds on the horizon, Pichai and his executives are moving in the right direction. The lawyers can lesson the potential impact of regulation, but the exploration encouraged by the management team in the ‘other bets’ segment is what will fuel Google in the future. Costs should be controlled, but spending should also be encouraged.

Amazon made obscene amounts of money in 2018

Internet giant Amazon made $232.9 billion last year, which was up 31% from the previous year.

The increase was almost exactly the same percentage at the previous year, indicating Amazon’s impressive growth is showing no sign of slowing. Its Q4 revenue growth was a mere 20% to $72.4 billion, but net income was up 58% to $3 billion, which helped amazon reach $10.1 billion net income for the full year, more than triple what it managed in 2017.

By far the main reason Amazon is suddenly so much more profitable is AWS – its cloud services division. Considering its origins as a way to monetize surplus datacentre capacity, it’s especially impressive that this division raked in $25.6 billion last year, yielding an operating income of $7.3 billion. For some reason CEO Jeff Bezos chose to bang on about Amazon’s voice UI platform Alexa instead in his earnings comments.

“Alexa was very busy during her holiday season,” he said. “Echo Dot was the best-selling item across all products on Amazon globally, and customers purchased millions more devices from the Echo family compared to last year. The number of research scientists working on Alexa has more than doubled in the past year, and the results of the team’s hard work are clear.

“In 2018, we improved Alexa’s ability to understand requests and answer questions by more than 20% through advances in machine learning, we added billions of facts making Alexa more knowledgeable than ever, developers doubled the number of Alexa skills to over 80,000, and customers spoke to Alexa tens of billions more times in 2018 compared to 2017. We’re energized by and grateful for the response, and you can count on us to keep working hard to bring even more invention to customers.”

Great, thanks for that Jeff. One other business segment that’s worth noting is appropriately enough, ‘other’. This covers advertising – in this case premium positioning on the Amazon site, especially for Prime subscribers of which there are over 100 million – and it doubled its revenue in the quarter. Thankless investors still drove Amazon’s share price down by 5%, ironically enough, after it announced it expects to increase its investment spend this year.

Nokia reports a solid Q4 but warns Q1 19 might suck

Telecoms vendor Nokia reported 3% revenue growth in Q4 2018 but it’s not too optimistic about the 5G rollout ramping up anytime soon.

Nokia matched that revenue growth with a 3% increase in net profit too, and the solid quarter helped it to grow revenues by 1% for the full year after adjusting for adjustments. As ever the networks business was the driver, with its 6% revenue growth offsetting declines in the other reporting segments. On that note Nokia is going to start reporting its software business separately from next quarter.

On the negative side Nokia doesn’t sound too bullish about the state of the market this year. “Based on the evolving readiness of the 5G ecosystem and the staggered nature of 5G rollouts in lead countries, we expect full year 2019 to follow a similar pattern as full year 2018: a soft first half followed by a robust second half, with a particularly weak Q1,” said Nokia in its outlook.

“Nokia ended the year with a strong fourth quarter,” said CEO Rajeev Suri. “We saw the second consecutive quarter of year-on-year sales growth across all five of our Networks business groups, as well as improved profitability in both Networks and Nokia Technologies. The execution of our strategy also proceeded well, with the work we have put into building a solid foundation for Nokia Software showing clear results and our enterprise business rapidly becoming a pillar of growth.”

One of the reasons for the 5G not ramping as expected this year may be some interoperability problems that Light Reading has been sniffing around. The whole standard is still very much a work in progress with Release 16, which covers a lot of technologies and use-cases over and above enhanced mobile broadband, not expected until the end of this year.

So apart from the usual US suspects not being able to resist jumping the gun in their desperation for quick marketing wins, there is little incentive for operators to go big on 5G in the short term. We expect a lot of the MWC talk from vendors such as Nokia to focus on getting ahead of the game, 5G readiness, etc, but it looks like the industry is opting to keep its powder dry for now.

Here are some Nokia slides, which clearly illustrate the pattern of a slow start building up to a strong Q4 that the company expects to repeat itself this year. Nokia’s shares were down a couple of percent at time of writing.

Nokia Q4 18 slide 1

Nokia Q4 18 slide 2

Nokia Q4 18 slide 3

 

Nokia Q4 18 slide 4

Nokia Q4 18 slide 5

Nokia Q4 18 slide 6

Nokia Q4 18 slide 7

Q4 2018 earnings roundup: Facebook, Qualcomm and Microsoft

It’s that time of the quarter when all the earnings announcements come at once, so here’s a brief look at three US tech heavy-hitters.

Facebook is never too far from the headlines, but this is attention investors won’t be too disappointed in receiving. Facebook’s quarterly figures suggest that while the world might disagree with its ethics, morals and basic decency, we just can’t stop telling people about the snow or posting pictures of a deconstructed Shoreditch coffee.

Over the last three months, total revenues stood at $16.9 billion, a 30% year-on-year jump, while net income jumped 61% to $6.8 billion. We might not trust Facebook, but we can’t stop using it.

Daily Active Users were 1.52 billion on average for December 2018, an increase of 9% year-over-year, while Monthly Active Users were 2.32 billion as of December 31, another 9% increase. Facebook estimates 2.7 billion people now use Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, or Messenger, while 2 billion use at least one of the services once a day.

“Going into 2019, we’re focused on four priorities: first, continue making progress on the major social issues facing the Internet and our company; second, build new experiences that meaningfully improve people’s lives today and set the stage for even bigger improvements in the future; third, keep building our business by supporting the millions of businesses, mostly small businesses, that rely on our services to grow and create jobs; then fourth, communicate more transparently about what we’re doing and the role our services play in the world. And I want to take a minute talk about each of these,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said during the earnings call.

Qualcomm is another company which is never too far away from the headlines, but for quite different reasons.

The last quarter proved to be another which saw the legal battle with Apple take another incremental step forward, but this does not seem to have weighed too heavily on the business. Over the last three months, the chipmaker beat market expectations and signed a new interim patent contract with Huawei Technologies.

The deal with Huawei is perhaps an important one as it lessons the strain placed on the over-worked Qualcomm legal team. Under the new deal, Huawei will pay $150 million per quarter for three quarters, providing a bit of breathing room as the pair look to rectify a licensing dispute. Qualcomm believes this is less than it is owed but indicated this is progress.

In terms of the figures, the last quarter brought in $4.8 billion, a decline of 20% year-on-year, though net income stood at $1.1 billion. Forecasts for the next quarter see the company offering a range of $4.4 billion and $5.2 billion, meeting analysts’ estimate of $4.80 billion, with the market reacting positively to the news. Revenues might be down, but there is a lot of potential on the horizon.

Finally, onto Microsoft, the only one of this trio which seems to have a positive reputation across the wold.

Satya Nadella might not be the most rock n’ roll CEO on the technology scene right now, but you certainly can’t argue with the results he delivers. Microsoft had another positive three-month period, with the Intelligent Cloud business claiming the plaudits.

“Our strong commercial cloud results reflect our deep and growing partnerships with leading companies in every industry including retail, financial services, and healthcare,” said Nadella. “We are delivering differentiated value across the cloud and edge as we work to earn customer trust every day.”

Total revenues increased 12% to $32.5 billion, while the boost to operating income was 18% as the bean counters revelled in $10.3 billion. Looking at the individual business units, revenues in Productivity and Business Processes was $10.1 billion, up 13% year-on-year, Intelligent Cloud jumped 20% to $9.4 billion and More Personal Computing was up 7% to $13 billion.

You might not want to go clubbing with Nadella, but if he carries on this trajectory he’ll never have to buy a drink again.

AT&T just misplaced 267k DirecTV Now subs, but it’s OK

The AT&T earnings call was somewhat of a mixed bag of results, with gains on mobile but it somewhat irresponsibly managed to misplace 267,000 DirecTV Now subscribers; its ok says CEO.

Digging down into the numbers always tends to lead to many twists and turns, but the big one is DirecTV Now, the telcos attempt to blend into differentiation and get ahead of the cord cutting generation. This has not exactly been a rip-roaring success for the business so far but losing 267,000 subscribers in three months is a headline which will take some beating.

So where did they go? According to the business, they were basically just allowed to leave. With $10 a month promotional subscriptions biting down hard on profitability, the powers-that-be seemingly decided to cut the losses. The company scaled back promotions and the number of customers on entry-level plans declined significantly, however on a more positive note, the number of premium subscriptions remained stable.

Unfortunately for AT&T, stable will not cut the grade anymore. Having made the questionable decision to acquire DirecTV for $67 billion in mid-2015, some would have hoped the outcome would be more than ‘stable’ three years later. With another whopper of an acquisition taking place during this three-year period, AT&T will be hoping to scale up success before too long if it is to reduce the debt weighing down the spreadsheets.

“Our top priority for 2018 and 2019 is reducing our debt and I couldn’t be more pleased with how we closed the year,” said CEO Randall Stephenson. “In 2018, we generated record free cash flow while investing at near-record levels.”

The other acquisition, WarnerMedia, seems to be having a better time of it than DirecTV. Total WarnerMedia revenues were $9.2 billion, up 5.9% year over year, primarily driven by higher Warner Bros revenues, consolidation of Otter Media and higher affiliate subscription revenues at Turner. What remains to be seen is whether this can continue. WarnerMedia is a media company which is awaiting the full integration and transformation wonders from AT&T. What impact this risk-adverse, lethargic and traditional business will have on the media giant is unknown in the long-run.

Elsewhere in the business, things were a little more positive. The team added 134,000 valuable post-paid subscriptions in the wireless business, though this remained below expectations, with the total now up to 153 million. Total revenues were up15.2% to $47.99 billion though this was also below analysts’ estimates of $48.5 billion. A bit more positive, than DirecTV’s car crash, but still not good enough according to Wall Street as share price declined 4.5%.

Weak iPhone sales take bite out of Apple revenues

It might not come as a huge surprise, but the Apple financials are not as glorious and fruitful as the quarterly bonanza of yesteryear.

The devices market is plateauing, China’s economy is slowing, Indian consumers are more interested with other brands, iPhone sales are down, as is revenue and operating income, expenses are up. It doesn’t exactly paint a picture of serenity and profitability, but share price increased more than 5% in overnight trading.

CEO Tim Cook and his team did manage the situation quite effectively with a recent profit warning and have seemingly tabled a plan which has caught the interest of investors but let’s just put this overnight surge into perspective. The last couple of months have not been good for Apple. At the beginning of September, Apple share price was hovering around the $228 mark, while at the time of writing, it has declined more than 30% to $154. Cook should be nervous.

“Last night’s results beg the question, are investors falling out of love with Apple?” said Christopher Dembik, Head of Macro Analysis at Saxo Bank.

“The results of the former favourite stock – Apple was the fifth most traded stock by clients at Saxo Bank, behind Facebook, Amazon, Alibaba and Tesla – signalling a tough climate for traders right now with a gloomy global economy, weak returns across the board and whispers of another recession on the way.”

Apple Topline

Overall revenues were down to $84.3 billion, 5% lower than the same period in 2017, though it was in-line with the revised forecast from a few weeks back. For the next quarter, revenue is expected between $55 billion and $59 billion, with a gross margin between 37-38%.

Looking at the results, the iPhone weighed Apple down heavily. Shipment numbers will no-longer be released by the team, though revenues for the cornerstone product declined an almost inconceivable $9.1 billion, a 15% year-on-year drop, to $51.982 billion. This is still a huge amount of cash, but such a dramatic decline indicates someone got something very wrong somewhere.

The last couple of months of 2018 were a scrap for Apple to justify the pricing of its flagship devices. Cook and his cronies seem to have accepted what many people were telling them; the devices have become too expensive. Moving forward, the team seem to have indicated there will be price reductions.

This is what Apple have specialised in over the last few decades; customer loyalty and sweating the brand. There aren’t many cults out there who can count on their followers as loyally as Apple can count on the iLifers, but when the company was innovating they could justify marking a premium on products and rely on the Apple followers to make purchases. This doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.

If you look through the portfolio, none of the products are particularly mind-blowing. Yes, they might be high-spec and feature the Apple brand, but there has been little innovation in the last few years to justify the increasing prices. Married with consumers becoming more cash conscious, Apple has seemingly pushed its customers over the breaking point of what they are willing to spend.

That said, it isn’t just innovation which is to blame here, Apple is losing out to competitors in key markets. The Americas grew, though Europe, Japan and Greater China all declined. In the European and China markets, Chinese brands such as Huawei and One Plus has been gaining greater traction, with the price much more palatable for consumers. These are good devices which are offering just as technologically advanced features, suggesting Apple is losing the vice-like grip which it has on its customers.

Apple Breakdown

“And so, what we have done in January and in some locations and some products is essentially absorbed part or all of the foreign currency move as compared to last year and therefore get close or perhaps right on the local price from a year ago,” said Cook during the earnings call.

How much of an impact the price reductions will have remains to be seen, but what is worth noting is that there was some good news from the call. iPhone revenues might have plummeted over the period, but all other categories grew, including the much-valued software and services unit.

This is where Cook has been pinning his hopes, and there have been some gains. The software and services unit grew revenues by 19% year-on-year taking the total to $10.8 billion. Apple is attempting to evolve itself into a very different type of business, with recurring revenues as the ambition, though success has to be put into context. Yes, there have been gains, but it seems the dangers of the hardware world are being realised much faster than the benefits of software evolution.

Apple has largely struggled in the world of software and services, perhaps because its traditional business model is not suitable. When you look at where Apple has been successful in software and services, iTunes, AppleCare and iOS for example, these are all areas which tie the customer into the Apple ecosystem. They are products which build on the Steve Jobs mantra of ‘closed is better’. However, Apple will have to embrace a new mentality is it wants to succeed in the new world.

At CES, Apple captured most of the headlines without actually being there as it announced a content-based partnership with Samsung. Beginning in the Spring, new Samsung Smart TV models will offer iTunes Movies & TV Shows and Apple AirPlay 2 support for Apple customers. This is a good move from Apple, embracing the concepts of openness and collaboration which will be critical moving forwards.

Another interesting development, which has remained unconfirmed, is the creation of a Netflix-like gaming platform. Apple would herd developers and gaming content behind a paywall which will offered as a bundle service for customers. The subscription service would take Apple into a potentially profitable segment, which is set to boom over the coming years. However, this cannot be tied exclusively to Apple products and would have to demonstrate openness.

The last few months have shown that Apple is not immune to global trends and the need to evolve as a business is overdue. The reason companies like Google and Amazon never report revenue dips like this is they are constantly searching for the next idea. Apple might have been slow to react, but there is some progress being made. It just needs to be made quicker.