Watching the analyst figures inch upward ahead of impending Apple (AAPL) earnings has become one of technology investing's best inside jokes. If you regularly follow Apple, you know that despite analysts' last-minute efforts to nudge up earnings, Apple always makes their revisions look laughable.
In the previous four quarters before today's earnings, Apple's smallest earnings beat had it soaring past analysts' estimates by 13%. Last quarter, Apple outdid itself with a mammoth 19% earnings beat. When it comes to Apple, only the best is expected. Meeting expectations isn't good enough; it needs to crush whatever bar the investing world had set for it. Luckily enough for Apple, it's on a decade-long home-run streak.
The Babe Ruth of Technology
And Apple delivered its most recent home run this afternoon. To be fair to Apple, "home run" doesn't even do the quarter justice. The company delivered earnings that beat last year by 125%, and sales that did so by 82%. And that was without the release of a new iPhone during the quarter, which had caused worrywart analysts to fret that competitors would take over gobs of market share.
iPhone sales hit 20.3 million, a growth rate of 142% over the year-ago period. The company also sold 9.25 million iPads, an even larger 183% increase above last year's total. In both cases, the figures far exceeded even the most optimistic estimates analysts could provide.
This quarter wasn't just an earnings beat; it was a "make sure you're standing up so you don't fall out of your chair" event. If Apple made the analysts who follow it look behind the curve in past quarters, they made them look downright clueless today.
So how does Apple continue defying the laws of gravity? How does it keep growing sales at 82% despite having higher sales than iconic tech peers IBM (IBM) and Microsoft (MSFT), two companies that are satisfied to see sales growth eclipse double digits?
Here are three key factors of Apple's recent success.
The First Factor: Verizon
One of the key drivers this quarter has been Apple's decision to end its exclusive iPhone contract with AT&T (T) and begin selling the iPhone on Verizon (VZ) within the United States. Adding Verizon effectively doubled the amount of stateside wireless subscribers Apple could sell to.
However, we didn't need Apple's quarterly report illustrating how its push into Verizon has halted the rapid climb of its key mobile rival -- Google's (GOOG) Android – to see how much momentum Apple has picked up from Android recently. That's because independent researchers have continually shown the iPhone taking back share in recent months. Here's a snapshot from researcher Nielsen of the iPhone's recent growth. Note how its market share took off again after the Verizon iPhone was introduced in February.
The Second Factor: Ravenous Worldwide Demand
American success is nice, but the broader takeaway is that the iPhone has turned into a global phenomenon. Between 2005 and 2010, Apple's U.S. sales shrank from 59% of its total down to 44%. That growth in international sales is largely thanks to the iPhone.
So although growth at Verizon looks to be a huge win for the company, it needs immensely strong overseas demand to hit the kind of iPhone growth rates -- 142% last quarter -- that it's seeing. In recent quarters, that growth has been coming from some unexpected places.
For example, even though a new unlocked iPhone is 49.7% of the average Chinese citizen's household income, Apple is seeing exploding demand in the country. Headline economic figures such as per capita GDP suggest that emerging-market citizens are poor on average, but there's also a huge disparity between the average citizen and the educated upper class. And those with money are buying Apple products hand over fist in a trend that should continue in the coming quarters.
The Third Factors: The iPad
Finally, Apple's amazing quarter was also a function of iPad demand. In April, Apple delivered heady 92% growth and investors cheered, but the sole blemish was tepid iPad sales. Apple only moved 4.6 million iPads, which fell short of expectations.
However, Apple's last earnings release also came at a time when the new iPad had just been released and stock-outs were common. The current quarter's massive iPad sales total -- 9.2 million -- shows a figure more in line with how popular the iPad is when supply of Apple's newest wunderkind matches the insatiable demand of consumers across the world.
Adding It All Up
Every quarter it feels as though Apple is approaching a high-water mark, but the company just keeps on delivering. Even after the inevitable bump in its share price tomorrow, Apple still looks cheap when you consider its amazing worldwide opportunity to keep driving iProducts at high growth rates for years to come. In the end, Apple's a $600 stock masquerading at $400. Take this deal while you can.
Eric Bleeker owns shares of no companies listed above. The Motley Fool owns shares of Microsoft, IBM, Apple, and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple, Microsoft, and Google and creating a bull call spread position in Apple.