Investors Interpret Apple's Decision to Withhold iPhone Numbers

Apple Inc.’s (AAPL) decision to overhaul its reporting structure has stunned investors and analysts.

For years, investors paid close attention to how many Apple devices were sold in a quarter, using the figures to calculate average selling prices and determine the overall health of the company. On Thursday, the tech giant put a stop to the era of smartphone sells determining its share price, informing its shareholders that it will no longer break down how many iPhones, iPads or Mac computers it ships.

Apple’s finance chief Luca Maestri sought to justify the change, claiming that unit sales are “less relevant today” because the company ships a vast range of iPhone and iPad models at several different prices and often bundles them with other products, reported the Financial Times. Instead, Maestri urged investors to focus on revenues and profit margins to value the company.

News that Apple will replace unit shipping data with cost of sales figures for each device category in the next quarter, coupled with a warning of possible weaker revenues in the crucial holiday season, pushed the shares down 6.49% in pre-market trading

Something to Hide?

Investors and analysts interpreted the accounting change as a sign that Apple’s days of posting bumper hardware sales have come to an end.

"Companies typically stop reporting metrics when the metrics are about to turn,” said Walter Piecyk from BTIG Research, according to Channel NewsAsia. "This is not a good look for Apple.”

"Big companies often clam up when numbers turn sour," said Neil Mawston, executive director at Strategy Analytics, according to Bloomberg. He noted that Motorola reduced public reporting of phone shipments when sales began to slide a few years ago. A recent report from the consulting firm said that Apple’s "relentless focus on price increases is capping its overall volume growth.”

Others were a little more forgiving, pointing out that the move marks Apple’s well-documented transition from a big hardware company into a services business. Many of the tech giant’s fastest growing ventures are now subscription based and these types of business are often valued by focusing on revenue growth and margins.

Gene Munster told CNBC he was "shocked" by the decision and understood why the share price was dropping. However, he added that it is a good thing for Apple's multiple since it will force investors into thinking of Apple as a service. 

"Barring a major introduction of a new product, like an iPhone, in the next few years, we're not going to see the company's hardware revenues grow in any big fashion," Jay Srivatsa, CEO of Future Wealth, told CNBC. "It becomes a services business. I think part of the reason why they're no longer going to split it up is because of that transition that the company's going to go through."

Srivatsa warned that investors aren’t likely to warm to this change after years of linking the company to the iPhone. For that reason, he expects Apple’s stock to fall slightly out of favor, at least until the new reporting structure is fully digested.

"Every discussion on Apple is always about their iPhone. I think to start talking about the Apple Pay or the iTunes or the software side and the services side of the business — for that message to really get across to investors and become the main theme of owning Apple — it's going to take some time," he said. 

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