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Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks at an Apple special event at Apple Park in Cupertino, California on September 7, 2022. – Apple is expected to unveil the new iPhone 14. (Photo by Brittany Hosea-Small / AFP) (Photo by BRITTANY HOSEA-SMALL/AFP via Getty Images)

Brittany Hosea-small | Afp | Getty Images

Analysts expect Apple to post its first year-over-year revenue decline since 2019’s March quarter when it reports earnings on Thursday. There are a few contributing factors.

The company couldn’t build enough of its high-end iPhones when its primary assembly facility in China was shut down for weeks during Covid lockdowns. Customers in many regions noticed as early as November that Apple couldn’t promise Christmas delivery of a new iPhone.

Apple gave a rare warning to investors that month explaining that production issues would result in lower shipments than “previously anticipated.” It was a data point that caused many analysts watching the stock to cut their estimates.

“We believe the peak impact of the disruptions was felt in early to mid November as wait times hit an extreme level (link) as the wait time in the US for the 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max reached 34 days while wait time in China at the high-end hit 36 days,” UBS analyst David Vogt wrote in January.

Analysts polled by Refinitiv expect Apple to report just over $121 billion in revenue in the December quarter, which would be a slight decline from the company’s $123.9 billion from a year ago.

But the problems aren’t Apple-specific. The PC and smartphone markets are slumping as consumers and businesses digest sales from the pandemic and cut costs to prepare for a possible recession.

The smartphone market saw an 18% decline in shipments in the fourth quarter, according to IDC, the worst decline ever recorded by the market research firm. The PC market fell 28% in the fourth quarter, according to the company. But many investors believe that Apple is outperforming its competitors even in a contracting market.

“While the state of consumer demand remains a near-term concern, we believe the underlying drivers of Apple’s model – a growing installed base and spend per user – remain intact, and that the strength/stability of Apple’s ecosystem remains undervalued,” Morgan Stanley analyst Erik Woodring wrote in a note earlier this month.

Here’s what Wall Street is expecting, according to Refinitiv consensus estimates:

  • Revenue: $121.19 billion
  • Earnings per share: $1.94 per share
  • iPhone revenue: $68.29 billion
  • iPad revenue: $7.76 billion
  • Mac revenue: $9.63 billion
  • Other products revenue: $15.26 billion
  • Services revenue: $20.67 billion

Apple’s March quarter guidance

Apple hasn’t given guidance since 2020, citing uncertainty first caused by the pandemic. However, the company usually provides a few data points that can give analysts a sense of how it’s doing.

Investors want to know whether the shortage of iPhone 14 Pro models in the December quarter will drive demand in the March quarter now that supply has improved.

Analysts expect just over $98 billion in sales in the March quarter, according to consensus estimates, signifying slight year-over-year growth.

“While we believe it’s well understood that Apple’s March quarter revenue should decline at a less-than-seasonal rate due to the pushout of iPhone demand from the December quarter to the March quarter,” Morgan Stanley’s Woodring wrote in a note last week, “the consumer electronics spending backdrop remains challenging, with tablets, PCs and more discretionary products (i.e. wearables) all facing continued demand headwinds.”

But if consumer confidence erodes in the face of higher interest rates and shrinking savings around the world, then Apple could suggest to investors that the company’s March quarter will be slow.

“While we don’t expect the resumption of detailed guidance typical of Apple earnings prior to Covid, we expect the commentary to be cautious regarding Product demand across the board,” UBS’s Vogt wrote.

If management commentary is soft, investors looking for a silver lining might want to look at Apple’s services business, which is profitable and has been growing strongly for years. However, several data points in the fourth quarter, including Apple’s own App Store payouts, suggest a significant slowdown in App Store growth, although analysts are split on its severity.

The App Store is one of the largest components of services, but it’s only a part of the business, which includes online subscriptions, warranties and search licensing fees. Apple shares could push higher if services such as Apple TV+ and Apple Music look like they’re generating a higher percentage of Apple’s revenue, D.A. Davidson analyst Tom Forte wrote in January.

Services are expected to total $20.67 billion in the December quarter, according to Refinitiv estimates, representing a 5.9% growth rate.

Analysts will also watch to see if the strong dollar continues to hurt Apple, given that so much of its sales are overseas. During the December quarter, the British pound, the Canadian dollar and the Japanese yen all weakened compared to the dollar. Apple management previously said the strong dollar would be a 10 percentage point drag on sales growth.

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Bitcoin just completed its fourth-ever ‘halving,’ here’s what investors need to watch now

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Bitcoin just completed its fourth-ever 'halving,' here’s what investors need to watch now

Dado Ruvic | Reuters

The Bitcoin network on Friday night slashed the incentives rewarded to miners in half for the fourth time in its history.

The celebrated event, which takes place about once every four years as mandated in the Bitcoin code, is designed to slow the issuance of bitcoins, thereby creating a scarcity effect and allowing the cryptocurrency to maintain its digital gold-like quality.

There may be some speculative trading on the event itself. JPMorgan said it expects to see some downside in bitcoin post-halving and Deutsche Bank said it “does not expect prices to increase significantly.” However, the impact may be bigger months from now, even if bitcoin continues its trend of diminishing returns from its halving day to its cycle top. Two key things to watch will be the block reward and the hash rate.

“While the upcoming Bitcoin halving will create a supply shock as the previous ones had, we believe its impact on the cryptocurrency’s price could be magnified by the concurrent demand shock created by the emergence of spot bitcoin ETFs,” said Benchmark’s Mark Palmer.

The bigger immediate impact will be to the miners themselves, he added. They’re the ones that run the machines that do the work of recording new blocks of bitcoin transactions and adding them to the global ledger, also known as the blockchain.

“Miners with access to inexpensive, reliable power sources are well positioned to navigate the post-halving market dynamics,” said Maxim’s Matthew Galinko in a note Friday. “Some miners, many that are not public, could exit the market with a combination of poor access to power, efficient machines, and capital. Miners with capital and relatively expensive power will likely find opportunities in the wake of potential consolidation and disruption driven by the halving.”

The block reward

Miners have two incentives to mine: transaction fees that are paid voluntarily by senders (for faster settlement) and mining rewards — 3.125 newly created bitcoins, or about $200,000 as of Friday evening, when the mining reward shrunk from 6.25 bitcoins. The incentive was initially 50 bitcoins.

The reduction in the block rewards leads to a reduction in the supply of bitcoin by slowing the pace at which new coins are created, helping maintain the idea of bitcoin as digital gold — whose finite supply helps determine its value. Eventually, the number of bitcoins in circulation will cap at 21 million, per the Bitcoin code. There are about 19.6 million in circulation today.

“Miners utilize powerful, specialized computer hardware to validate transactions on the Bitcoin network and record them permanently on the blockchain,” Deutsche Bank analyst Marion Laboure said. “This process, known as mining, rewards miners with newly minted bitcoins. But with each halving, the reward to mining is decreased to maintain scarcity and control the cryptocurrency’s inflation rate over time.”

The hash rate

Historically after a halving, the Bitcoin hash rate – or the total computational power used by miners to process transactions on the Bitcoin network – has fallen, pricing some miners out of the market. It generally recovers in the medium term, however, Laboure pointed out.

The network hash rate has been hitting all-time highs for months as miners tried to take market share ahead of the halving. Growth in the Bitcoin hash rate dilutes individual miners’ contribution to the network hash rate.

“In the past three halvings, the network recovered its pre-halving hash rate levels within an average of 57 days,” she said. “It is also likely that the current elevated prices of bitcoin may limit this short-term dip in the hash rate, as bitcoin miners enjoy record high profits in the lead-up to the halving.”

Palmer said the impact of the halving on bitcoin miners’ economics could be “more than offset over time” if bitcoin’s price rallies keep pushing the cryptocurrency to new highs in the months ahead.

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The Bitcoin network completes the fourth-ever ‘halving’ of rewards to miners

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The Bitcoin network completes the fourth-ever ‘halving’ of rewards to miners

Breaking down Bitcoin's upcoming 'halving' event

The Bitcoin network on Friday evening completed its fourth “halving,” reducing the rewards earned by miners to 3.125 bitcoins from 6.25.

The price of bitcoin has been volatile ahead of the event, and fell about 4% this week to trade around $64,100, according to Coin Metrics.

Mechanically, the halving itself shouldn’t affect the price of bitcoin in the short term, but many investors are expecting big gains in the months ahead, based on the cryptocurrency’s performance after previous halvings. After the 2012, 2016 and 2020 halvings, the bitcoin price ran up about 93x, 30x and 8x, respectively, from its halving day price to its cycle top.

The event is a big test for mining companies, however.

“All else equal, the halving will cut industry revenues in half, triggering a wave of consolidation and business closures, while (hopefully) rationalizing the network hashrate and industry capex, which is ultimately good for the remaining operators,” JPMorgan analyst Reginald Smith said in a recent note to investors.

Hash rates are a measure of the computational power used to process transactions on the bitcoin network. The larger a miner’s hash rate, the greater of a revenue opportunity it has.

Mining stocks have been volatile in the days leading up to the event. Many are down by double digits for the year, after rallying between about 300% and 600% in 2023. Riot Platforms, for instance, is down about 41% in 2024 through Friday’s close, but it surged 356% in 2023.

“The market so far has seen bitcoin mining stocks as mere BTC proxies, in absence of bitcoin ETFs,” said Bernstein analyst Gautam Chhugani. “[The] halving would further differentiate the low cost, high-scale consolidating winners vs. rest of smaller miners which may be disadvantaged post-halving.”

Mining stocks in 2023 and 2024

2024 YTD 2023 return
MARATHON DIGITAL (MARA) -30.2% 586.84%
RIOT PLATFORMS (RIOT) -41.08% 356.34%
CLEANSPARK (CLSK) 54.4% 440.69%
IRIS ENERGY (IREN) -31.68% 472%
CIPHER MINING (CIFR) -7.63% 637.50%

Still, speculators may still trade on the event. Another JPMorgan analyst, Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou, said Thursday that he expects the near-term bitcoin price to fall after the halving, citing overbought conditions and prices that are still above the cryptocurrency’s comparison to gold when adjusted for volatility. He also pointed to subdued venture capital funding of crypto projects.

Analysts at Deutsche Bank have a similar view.

“[The] Bitcoin halving is already partially priced in by the market and we do not expect prices to increase significantly following the halving event,” the firm’s Marion Laboure said in a note Thursday, adding that it “has been widely anticipated in advance due to the nature of the Bitcoin algorithm.”

“Looking ahead, we continue to expect prices to stay high,” she added, citing expectations of future spot Ethereum ETF approvals, future central bank rate cuts and regulatory developments.

Bitcoin is currently trading at just under $64,000, roughly 13% off its March 14 all-time high of $73,797.68.

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Drone startup Zipline hits 1 million deliveries, looks to restaurants as it continues to grow

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Drone startup Zipline hits 1 million deliveries, looks to restaurants as it continues to grow

Autonomous delivery drone startup Zipline said Friday that it hit its 1 millionth delivery to customers and that it’s eyeing restaurant partnerships in its next phase of growth.

The San Francisco-based startup designs, builds and operates autonomous delivery drones, working with clients that range from more than 4,700 hospitals, including the Cleveland Clinic, to major brands such as Walmart and GNC. It’s raised more than $500 million so far from investors including Sequoia Capital, a16z and Google Ventures. Zipline is also a CNBC Disruptor 50 company.

The company said its zero-emission drones have now flown more than 70 million autonomous commercial miles across four continents and delivered more than 10 million products.

The milestone 1 millionth delivery carried two bags of IV fluid from a Zipline distribution center in Ghana to a local health facility.

As the company continues to expand, it will bring on Panera Bread in Seattle, Memorial Hermann Health System in Houston, and Jet’s Pizza in Detroit.

Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo Cliffton told CNBC that 70% of the company’s deliveries have happened in the past two years and, in the future, the goal is to do 1 million deliveries a day.

“The three areas where the incentive really makes the most sense today are health care, quick commerce and food, and those are the three main markets that we focus on,” Rinaudo Cliffton said. “Our goal is to work with really the best brands or the best institutions in each of those markets.”

The push into restaurant partnerships marks an “obvious transition” he said, due to the continuing growth in interest in instant food delivery. Zipline already delivers food from Walmart to customers.

“We need to start using vehicles that are light, fast, autonomous and zero-emission,” Rinaudo Cliffton said. “Delivering in this way is 10 times as fast, it’s less expensive … and relative to the traditional delivery apps that most restaurants will be working with, we triple the service radius, which means you actually [get] 10 times the number of customers who are reachable via instant delivery.”

Zipline deliveries for some Panera locations in Seattle are expected to begin next year, the Panera franchisee’s Chief Operating Officer Ron Bellamy told CNBC. Delivery continues to grow for its business, even in an inflationary environment, he said. Costs with Zipline are anticipated to be on par with what third-party delivery is now, he added, with the hope of that cost lowering over time. 

“I’m encouraged about it, not just even in terms of what I can do for the business, but as a consumer, I think at the end of the day, if it is economical, and it delivers a better overall experience, then the consumer will speak,” Bellamy said.

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