Apple Inc. is getting ready to show investors the money.
Apple’s AAPL, -2.78% Thursday afternoon earnings report not only will reveal how the consumer-electronics giant is managing supply-chain and macroeconomic pressures, but it should also contain the company’s annual update on its capital-return plans.
Apple typically announces its latest buyback and dividend strategies in conjunction with its March-quarter earnings, and this year’s update could be the “most incremental potential positive” element of Apple’s entire report, according to Wells Fargo analyst Aaron Rakers.
The company continues to be a cash-generating machine, and with its shares only yielding about 0.5%, Rakers expects that Apple could add at least $90 billion to its buyback program and raise its dividend by upward of 10%. For context, the company boosted its share-repurchase authorization by $90 billion a year ago while announcing a roughly 7% dividend hike, and shipped more than $100 billion in total to investors in its most recent fiscal year.
CFRA’s Angelo Zino sees the potential for a more buyback-heavy update, predicting a $100 billion increase to Apple’s share-repurchase authorization and a roughly 7% bump to its dividend.
For more: Big Tech’s pandemic year produces mind-boggling financial results
Apple has been especially focused on capital returns in recent years as it works toward its goal of becoming net-cash neutral over time. The company has been more aggressive about buybacks since announcing the net-cash-neutral target in 2018, based on a review of data Rakers compiled related to Apple’s past decade of capital-return activities, but still had cash reserves of more than $60 billion at the end of its fiscal year, which produced the second-highest net-profit margin in the company’s history.
Here’s what to watch for in the company’s April 28 report.
Earnings: Analysts tracked by FactSet on average model $1.43 a share in fiscal second-quarter earnings for Apple, up from $1.40 a share a year earlier. At Estimize, which aggregates projections from hedge funds, academics, and others, the average estimate calls for $1.51 a share.
Revenue: The FactSet consensus calls for $94.11 billion in quarterly revenue, up from $89.58 billion a year before. The average projection on Estimize is for $95.7 billion.
Stock movement: Apple shares have fallen in the session immediately following five of the company’s last six earnings reports, though they gained 7% after the company’s most recent report. The shares are near flat over the past three months as the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -2.82%, which counts Apple as a component has lost about 1%.
Apple’s coming report will, of course, be about more than just the cash. Investors will be looking for updates about how the company is faring in the current macroeconomic climate, and how it has dealt with pressure on its supply chain.
Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri said on Apple’s last earnings call that the company expected to “set a March-quarter revenue record despite significant supply constraints,” and he thought that the constraints would be less severe than what Apple experienced in its December quarter.
More important than the March-quarter impact, though, will be any forward-looking insights.
“We will be focused on Apple’s commentary around its supply chain following reports of significant disruptions in its Chinese suppliers related to COVID lockdowns,” wrote Rakers. “While we expect that F1Q22 will benefit from some easing, especially in iPad, we continue to focus on reports that lockdowns around Shanghai could impact Mac shipments by as much as 20-30% in F3Q22.”
He rates the stock at overweight with a $205 price target.
Don’t miss: Corporate profit is at a level well beyond what we have ever seen, and it’s expected to keep growing
Morgan Stanley’s Katy Huberty anticipates that Apple’s management will strike a “more cautious” tone when discussing the June quarter.
“In the event Apple remains less impacted than other brands, Apple could outperform our forecast, but we expect management’s initial guidance to set a lower baseline,” she wrote. “With this setup, we don’t believe investors need to be aggressive ahead of the quarter; however we’d continue to buy shares on any weakness.”
She has an overweight rating and $210 target price on the shares.
Additionally, Monness, Crespi, Hardt & Co.’s Brian White will be looking to gauge the impact of inflation on Apple purchases.
“Given troubling inflationary forces and the economic impact from the conflict in Ukraine, we believe consumers will be more selective in their purchases,” he wrote in a note to clients. “Plus, the impact of increased spending on travel, restaurants, and other out-of-home entertainment could curtail purchases of digital gadgets.”
White has a buy rating and $199 price target on Apple’s stock.
Bank of America’s Wamsi Mohan doesn’t expect Apple to issue a formal outlook for the current quarter, in keeping with a pattern it’s established throughout the pandemic. Then again, he notes that the June quarter tends to be a slower one for Apple results, and investors are likely more focused on events such as the WWDC developer confab in June and the expected iPhone refresh in the fall.
He rates the shares at buy with a $215 price objective.
See also: The pandemic PC boom is over, but its legacy will live on
Also of interest will be trends in Apple’s non-iPhone categories. The iPad and Mac were major pandemic winners, but analysts have questions about Apple’s ability to maintain momentum there now that people are leaving their homes more—and many already bought new devices during the height of the COVID-19 crisis.
The iPad category was the only one not to increase revenue in the December quarter, though Chief Executive Tim Cook said on Apple’s last earnings call that the product was “supply-constrained,” as the company had expected.
Opinion: Apple’s Mac renaissance is about to get a big boost ‘in a market where everyone counted them out’
“Long-term, we remain more optimistic about Mac growth, while iPads could be challenged as the education space and consumers likely digest previous purchases,” wrote CFRA’s Zino, who said Apple has done an “excellent job” refreshing its Mac lineup with custom chips that offer performance boosts.
He rates the stock a buy with a $200 price target.
Here's what to know.
Emily Bary is a MarketWatch reporter based in New York.
Apple Inc. is getting ready to show investors the money.