Is Apple Inc Losing Ground in China?

Revenue from the Greater China region dropped 33% YoY.

Is Apple Inc Losing Ground in China?

By: Abdullah Saeed Qureshi Published:
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Revenue from the Greater China region dropped 33% YoY

Apple Inc reported its third quarter of fiscal year 2016 (2QFY16) results after the closing bell on Wednesday. The company managed to beat both earning per share (EPS) and revenue consensus estimates. However, things aren’t as bright as it may seem since the tech giant witnessed declining iPhone sales for the second consecutive quarter.

The company reported revenue of $42.4 billion, down 14.5% on a year-over-year (YoY) basis. Moreover, EPS came in at $1.42, surpassing the consensus estimate of $1.38.

However, Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO seemed quite pleased with the results and said: “We are pleased to report third quarter results that reflect stronger customer demand and business performance than we anticipated at the start of the quarter.” Mr. Cook also added that the company was able to reduce its channel inventory by almost $3.6 billion, well above its own guidance of $2 billion inventory reduction.

Net income for the quarter came in at $7.8 billion, down 27% compared to the same quarter last year. In 2015, Apple’s net income stood at $10.7 billion.

Mr. Cook highlighted that sales of iPhone accounted for a major portion of channel inventory reduction. Similarly, he also stated that iPhone SE, Apple’s newly launched smartphone, also performed better-than-expected.TheSE contributed for almost 23% of the total iPhone sales made in the quarter.

During the earnings conference call, the CEO commented: “At its launch, we said that the addition of the iPhone SE to the iPhone lineup placed us in a better position to meet the needs of customers who love a four-inch phone and to attract even more customers into our ecosystem.”

Overall, the company’s top management seemed satisfied with the earnings results. It generated about 63% of its total sales from international markets. However, the result from its Asia Pacific region, especially from greater China, paints a completely different picture.

Apple Greater China Performance

Greater China sales for the quarter stood at $8.8 billion, down 33% YoY. In the same period last year, the company generated about $13.23 billion in sales from the greater China market. Similarly, on a sequential basis, sales in the region dropped by about 29%. Greater China, which was considered the company’s second largest market after the US, has been becoming a major concern amid stiff competition from domestic smartphones makers and a consistent economic slowdown. Moreover, Apple’s sales dropped more than 20% to $2.37 billion from $2.95 billion reported in 3QFY15 in other Asian countries.

The company has faced quite a lot of problems in one of its strongest market in the past few years, ranging from regulatory issues and domestic competition to an economic slump. Apple, which used to generate more than 50% of its revenue from the mainland territory, has now lost a significant portion of its market share to home grown smartphone makers including Huawei Technologies and Xiaomi Technologies.

Earlier this week, Huawei released its financial results for the first six months of 2016. The Chinese smartphone giant reported $36.67 billion (245.5 billion yuan) in revenue, well above the consensus estimate. In 2015, it reported about 175.9 billion yuan in revenue for the first six months. In addition, the company also said that it aiming to achieve the target of 140 million smartphones shipments by the year-end and looks set to achieve that milestone based on the first half results. In the first half, Huawei sold about 60 million smartphones, representing a 25% increase compared to first-half results of 2015.

However, Mr. Cook seemed quite pleased with company’s progress in the emerging markets, especially in China. During the earnings conference he said: “We remain very optimistic about the long-term opportunities in Greater China and we continue to invest there. We opened our 41st Greater China retail store during the quarter, and we also made a $1 billion investment in Didi Chuxing.” Didi Chuxing is China’s largest ride hailing start-up backed by the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and Tencent Holding Ltd.

He also highlighted that company’s installed base of iPhones in the Greater China region has surged 34% YoY. In addition, according to the data released by China Mobile, iPhone users on its network ranked the highest both in terms of data usage and loyalty.

In addition, Luca Maestri, Apple CFO and Senior Vice President also highlighted that the company’s performance in the quarter was affected by some serious challenges in the Greater China region, including an economic slowdown and regulatory concerns.

Apple China Challenges

China has always been a key strategic hub for the iPhone maker, however, recent performances clearly indicates that the tech giant is losing ground in its second largest market in terms of revenue. Even in the second quarter, the company’s revenue from greater China fell 26% year-over-year (YoY).

Beside a decline in iPhone sales, the regulatory issues are also haunting the Silicon Valley based smartphone maker. Earlier this year, Apple’s iTunes Movies and iBooks Store services were banned by the Chinese regulatory authorities, after only being available in the country for six months.

Recently, Shenzhen Baili, a little known Chinese startup, won a surprise lawsuit against Apple. Shenzhen Baili accused the tech giant of violating a design patent. The Chinese court granted Baili a sales sanction against the tech giant. Apple was prohibited from selling its flagship iPhone 6 and 6 Plus in some Chinese cities where Baili operated. However, the sales sanction was lifted.

In addition, Apple ranked third in terms of market share in China last year with about 13.4% of the market, according to the data released by International Data Corporation (IDC). Xiaomi ruled the Chinese market with about 15% share, closely followed by Huawei Technologies with 14.5% market share.Huawei is expected to surpass both Apple and Xiaomi this year to lead the smartphone market both locally and internationally.

Tim Cook’s Optimism about China:

Though the company’s overall financial results didn’t live up to its reputation, however, the company’s CEO is still optimistic about its long term growth prospects both locally and in the Greater China territory.

With respect to the ban on Apple’s i iTunes Movies and iBooks Store, Mr. Cook indicated that those stores weren’t even making $1 million so the band is not a major problem. However, he also added: “we're working very closely with the appropriate government agencies, and we hope to make books and movies available again to our customers there. And so we'll see how that goes, but we're optimistic there.” The company’s CEO says that China is a long-term investment and Apple is doing its best to give the Chinese customers the best product.

Apple’s Alliance with Native To Fight Back in China:

Back in May, Apple announced a strategic partnership with China’s biggest ride-hailing app, Didi Chuxing, as it invested $1 billion in the company. Analysts believe that the venture could boost Apple Pay in China by offering payment services to Didi’s 14 million drivers. In addition, the iPhone maker could also use Didi’s vast road data for its upcoming autonomous car project. Mr. Cook said about the partnership: “We are extremely impressed by the business they’ve built and their excellent leadership team, and we look forward to supporting them as they grow.”

The partnership could assist Apple in growing its other services in the mainland territory; however, declining iPhone sales in the country is still a cause of concern.

Future Outlook:

Apple expects its fourth quarter revenue to come in between $45.5 billion and $47.5 billion. The increase in revenue guidance reflects the company’s aim to grow and give its investors solid returns. In 3QFY16, Mr. Maestri said: “We returned over $13 billion to investors through share repurchases and dividends.”

We believe Mr. Cook’s optimism coupled with the company’s long term plans to expand in the Greater China region is yet to face a complete discontentment. However, if things move forward in the same trend, Apple’s long term hold over the Chinese market will come to a complete end. It is vital for the company to implement new strategies, build healthy relations with the regulatory authorities and give the Chinese customers something new and innovative.