Analysts are tepid on Apple after its first annual drop in revenue in 15 years

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apple ceo tim cook 2001

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Apple CEO Tim Cook. The company hasn't had a drop in revenue since 2001.

On Thursday, Apple reported its first annual decline in revenue for fifteen years.

Its quarterly results beat Wall Street's expectations - but this is now the third consecutive quarter that iPhone sales have declined year-on-year, and the company's stock dropped 3% in after-hours trading (from around $118 to $114).

Now, the early verdict from analysts on Apple's quarter is in - and it's pretty tepid. Over the last six months, Apple analysts have gone from being largely bullish on Apple to merely somewhat bullish and in a few cases, neutral. This is new territory for AAPL, long-regarded as the stock you buy and hold forever.

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Apple's growing services business is cited as a positive, as is the expected iPhone "super cycle," where Apple is expected to return to growth with a blockbuster new smartphone in 2017 to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the device.

But downsides in analysts' research notes include the growing amount of time in mature markets between smartphone purchases, and a "slower pace of innovation."

For years, Apple was an industry darling, growing iPhone sales like clockwork for years and making record profits. But Western markets are pretty comprehensively penetrated, the Chinese market is slowing and emerging markets like India aren't mature enough to be a real target for Apple's premium devices.

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Apple is the biggest company in the world, and some analysts and investors are now wondering whether it has any room left to grow. The lion's share of its revenue comes from the iPhone, a device launched a decade ago, while sales of the Apple Watch - the company's latest hardware product line -are in freefall.

In a notable exchange on a call with analysts on Thursday, Apple CEO Tim Cook was put on the defensive after being bluntly asked: Does Apple have a grand strategy for the next 3-5 years? I know you're not going to tell us, but do you have one?"

He responded: "We have the strongest pipeline that we've ever had and we're really confident about the things in it but as usual we're not going to talk about what's in it."

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We've rounded up a selection of analysts' reactions to Apple's quarterly earnings, and you can read them below. But first, here are all the key numbers, via my colleague Kif Leswing:

  • Q4 EPS (GAAP): $1.67 per share, down 14.79% year-over-year (y/y), versus expectations of $1.65
  • Q4 revenue: $46.9 billion, down 8.93% y/y, versus expectations of $46.9 billion
  • Gross margin: 38%, down 4.76% y/y, versus expectations of 37.9%
  • iPhone unit sales: 45.5 million, down 5.3% y/y, versus expectations of 45 million
  • iPhone ASP: $618, down 7.7% y/y, versus expectations of $625
  • iPad unit sales: 9.2 million, down 6.8% y/y, versus expectations of 9.1 million
  • Mac unit sales: 4.8 million, down 15.7% y/y, versus expectations of 5.1 million
  • December quarter revenue guidance: Between $76 billion and $78 billion. At its midpoint, that guidance suggests 1.44% growth next quarter over last year.

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