★ Lenovo Reports March Quarter Earnings (May 25, 2017)
Snap, owner of the Snapchat app, today reported its first earnings as a public company, and it was a somewhat unique experience. Its press release, linked below, is entirely devoid of commentary, and although its call had a little more of that in prepared remarks, it was mostly focused on its evolving ad products. The results themselves are more of the same from the S-1 filing, which I suggested at the time was lousy preparation for an IPO because it featured significantly slowing user growth and a lack of clarity about the future. This first quarter of public earnings reinforces that perception, with more slower growth than last year. Massive stock-based compensation related to the IPO dramatically distorts the margin picture, but even stripping out SBC leaves a worsening margin picture as costs in several categories rose faster than revenue. Evan Spiegel and the other executives on the call seemed keener to talk trash about competitors, notably Facebook, than in really answering investors’ pressing questions about user growth, and that’s reflected in the stock price, which has dived since the release. The bombastic tone would have been justifiable if the company’s growth hadn’t slowed significantly since the introduction of Instagram Stories with no signs of recovery, but in the current context it feels like naivety or denial instead. Snap’s management argues that measures of engagement and “creation” are more important than user growth metrics. However, it provides very few of those, and then not consistently or with enough granularity to measure them over time. The conclusion from all of this is that Snap’s future is that of a niche company dominating narrow segments of the population rather than a company with broad mass market appeal, and that has significant implications for its valuation. Two other points worth making: the company provided enough data in today’s call to suggest it sold fewer than 100k Spectacles units since launch, confirming the perception that it’s been seen as an experiment than a meaningful new part of its business. Secondly, it continues to suggest that its sub-par Android app has hurt growth, and that recent improvements have moved the needle, though the numbers in question have moved so little that this isn’t going to turn around the growth trend.
via Snap Inc.
Nvidia Announces Strong Earnings for March 2017 Quarter (May 9, 2017)
Fitbit Reports Worst Revenue in Nearly 3 Years, Second Straight Quarter of Heavy Losses (May 3, 2017)
Apple’s results for calendar Q1 (its fiscal Q2) were out today, and they largely continued the trends from the December quarter. Revenue growth continued and actually accelerated despite the lack of the extra week which made last quarter’s numbers slightly harder to parse, but the connection between iPhone growth and revenue growth was broken as iPhone shipments dipped slightly (though a change in inventory patterns from last year eliminates some of the dip). Notably, Tim Cook said Apple is starting to see a pause in iPhone buying ahead of a big anticipated upgrade this Fall, which is bad news in the short term but potentially feeds the super-cycle narrative that’s become so popular lately if Apple is able to deliver. Other things worth noting: continued rapid iPad declines, though entirely in the Mini size (revenues from the rest of the lineup grew); strong Apple Watch sales, up nearly double year on year (likely around 3.2-3.5m), with total wearables (Watch, AirPods, and Beats sales) likely around $6 billion for the last four quarters combined. Services continues to be the strongest growth driver by far, up 18% for the second straight quarter driven by 40% App Store growth and likely strong Apple Music revenue growth too. Overall, this is a solid quarter for Apple, with nothing out of the ordinary or too unexpected – all the existing trends are ticking over nicely, with the iPhone roughly flat (up slightly on revenue, down slightly on shipments), and some of the growth drivers delivering well, while the iPad and China continue to be a drag. Next quarter’s guidance is going to be fascinating because it will have to address the issue of what new devices will launch, when, and at what prices without explicitly mentioning any of that!
via Apple (as usual, I live tweeted earnings with tons of charts which you can see in this thread, and I’ll have my earnings deck on Apple up for Jackdaw Research Quarterly Decks Service subscribers in the next little while)
Sony results for the March quarter were out this morning, and they were a pretty mixed bag (this was also the end of its fiscal year, so some of the reporting you’ll see today relates to those year-end numbers, but I’ll focus on the quarter). The mobile business, which has has its share of ups and downs over the last few years, had another tough quarter, with a year on year drop in shipments and a drop back into the red following three quarters of profits. The music business did well but for reasons that have very little to do with music – the biggest boost in revenue came from a mobile game, while recorded music revenues were actually down as the twin declines in physical and downloads more than offset streaming growth for the third straight quarter. This is a problem I’m afraid will start to afflict all three major music labels in the near future. Sony Pictures had a down quarter and year, and had taken a big write down in the December quarter which affected full year results too. But the drop in revenues year on year was mostly in TV productions rather than motion pictures, which held up better. In gaming, Sony saw decent Playstation 4 shipments in the quarter, up a little year on year, and likely continues to lead Microsoft’s Xbox line by some margin as it has throughout this cycle.
via Sony (PDF)
Intel had a pretty good quarter for the most part, expanding margins as several of its divisions performed better off the back of rising prices and lower unit costs. The only division that didn’t grow was the security division (home of McAfee), which Intel has already announced it intends to spin off. Client Computing, home of Intel’s traditional PC business but also newer areas like tablets, phones, modems and so on, grew by 6%, though in large part because of rising prices (up 7% year on year) rather than volumes (down 4% year on year). The trend in Data Center, which makes up a little under a third of revenue, was similar, with volumes down 1% but prices up 6%, driving overall growth, though at a slower rate than in the past, and its margins have also fallen recently as it invests in new processes which should pay dividends over the longer term. Intel’s non-volatile memory group benefited from the release of Intel’s new Optane memory products, which have contributed to very rapid growth, but which has also plunged that division into the red because of heavy investment in the new processes and technology. IoT is also growing at a decent clip, though it’s much smaller than the two big divisions. One other division is Intel’s Programmable Systems Group, which was formed when it acquired Altera, which made filed-programmable gate array (FPGA) technology. That’s growing at a decent clip and is also now profitable, which is good progress from when the acquisition closed. Overall, Intel’s two main businesses are performing well for it at the moment, though the fact that it’s having to invest heavily to remain competitive in several key areas has held margins down below where they might be.
via Intel (PDF)
GoPro beat its revenue guidance for Q1 and grew year on year for the second straight quarter, though it’s still a shadow of its former self, with revenues less than two thirds of what they were two years ago in the quarter, and even less than the equivalent quarter three years ago. Meanwhile, it still hasn’t reduced costs nearly enough to get back to profitability, as its cost of sales was nearly 70% of revenue and its operating expenses accounted for about the same amount, leaving it with a -40% operating margin. That’s actually a slight improvement on a couple of quarters last year, but was much worse than Q4, The fundamental challenge facing GoPro is still that it’s essentially a one-trick pony in a market that has a fairly low ceiling at a time when smartphones and other product categories are beginning to be more meaningful competitors. It’s expanded into drones, but that’s an even more niche category than action cameras, and all its efforts at diversifying into content have failed. It may be able to bring costs down enough over the course of the year to get back to profitability but a return to sustained high growth still seems like a distant prospect.
Alphabet was the third of the big three tech companies to report earnings today, and one of two (along with Amazon) which saw a very favorable response from the market to better than expected results. Its growth was strong once again off the back of ongoing positive ad revenue trends and a second straight quarter of strong growth in Other revenue in the Google segment, which includes its hardware sales. However, whereas Q4 saw something like $600-700 million in hardware sales, Q1 saw a much smaller bump from hardware – likely around $300 million. Other Bets revenue – mostly from Nest, Fiber, and Verily – continued to grow rapidly (47% year on year) though losses also grew. Google’s traffic acquisition costs continue to rise fairly rapidly due to the increased payments Google has to make for mobile search traffic acquisition (notably on the iPhone) – it rose from 8.5% of revenue from Google’s own sites to 10.4% in one year. Meanwhile, clicks or their equivalents on ads on Google’s own sites continue to rise rapidly, while the cost-per-click continues to fall due to the rise of mobile and video advertising. So far, the former is more than offsetting the latter, and there’s no indication just yet that there’s an end in sight. But Google’s own sites now contribute over 80% of total ad revenue, while third party websites running Google ads are down below 20% and the gap between the two continues to widen as Google continues to be far more successful driving growth on its own sites. That’s a reflection both of a deliberate strategy – Google’s margins on its own sites are much higher – but also of the broader trend away from traditional desktop display ads and towards mobile, search, and native advertising.
Microsoft was one of numerous big tech companies that reported Q1 2017 financial results (its fiscal Q3 results) this afternoon, and the only one of the big three to miss on revenue. That revenue miss was largely due to a shortfall in hardware revenue as Surface had its first big year on year decline in a year and a half due to a lack of new mass market hardware, and phone revenue dropped to essentially zero. However, these two businesses together make up just 4% of Microsoft’s revenue, which continues to be dominated by software and to an increasing extent services, while growth is dominated by the move to the cloud. Microsoft’s cloud revenue run-rate is now at an annualized $15.2 billion, compared to Amazon’s $14.5 billion in actual annual revenue, though Microsoft’s definition of cloud here is far more expansive than Amazon’s. The productivity business had a particularly strong growth quarter at over 20%, while the Intelligent Cloud segment also improved a little to just over 10%. But margins continue to fall overall as the newer cloud services generate less profit than Microsoft’s old massively profitable software business did, and that picture isn’t likely to change. Microsoft is growing again after both lapping the introduction of Windows 10 and the revenue deferral associated with the new business model, and also getting past the biggest drops in the phone business, but it’s mostly doing so by doubling down on enterprise products and services while its consumer and hardware businesses mostly continue to struggle to find growth.
Amazon today announced its earnings for Q1 2017. Revenues grew strongly, but as with Q4 the rate of growth was slower than it had been for most of last year. Operating margins also continue to fall, driven by a slight dip in AWS margins in the last couple of quarters and continued big losses in the International business. The feeling I have is that e-commerce growth is just a little slower than Amazon anticipated – several metrics it normally keeps within very narrow bands have crept out in the past couple of quarters. I take that as a sign that retailers like Walmart are fighting back more effectively, sacrificing margins in pursuit of higher growth, and that this is affecting Amazon’s growth rate (though it still remains far higher than any other retailer’s organic growth, online or otherwise). Following some additional disclosure in its 10-K last quarter, Amazon has now shaken up its reporting segments for the non-AWS business and provides a little more visibility into its subscription and fulfillment businesses. The subscription business – mostly Prime but also other smaller businesses like Audible – generated 5% of revenue. Fulfillment and related businesses generated 18% of revenues, and the growth of that third-party seller business on Amazon, which now accounts for 50% of units sold, continues to be an important driver of higher gross margins along with AWS. From the 10-K, I estimated that Amazon had roughly 70 million Prime subscribers at the end of last year, and though the quarterly numbers are a little harder to pass it looks like it may have seen decent growth this past quarter too. Prime continues to be one of Amazon’s greatest strengths as a driver of stickiness and revenue growth.
Lyft’s Rapid Growth Continues in Q1, While Losses Narrow (Apr 27, 2017)
Following Bloomberg’s exclusive on Uber’s financials for the end of last year, which were provided officially, it now has leaked numbers for Lyft for Q1. Those numbers, like Uber’s, show very strong growth, though the implication that this has come as a result of Uber’s troubles isn’t supported by other recent data. What’s really happening is that the whole space is growing extremely rapidly and these two companies are capturing the vast majority of that growth in the US. The big difference between the two is that Lyft’s numbers show smaller losses in dollar terms, while Uber’s showed growing dollar losses. Lyft’s recent aggressive expansion is probably going to slow its progress towards profitability somewhat, but that goal continues to look quite a bit closer for Lyft than for Uber.
Nintendo Sells 2.74m Switch Units in First Month (Apr 27, 2017)
In case there was any doubt, Nintendo has a hit on its hands with the Switch, its hybrid console/portable gaming system. It sold 2.74m units in the first month after launch, which is apparently roughly the same number that the earlier Wii U sold in its first year, and 20% of total sales to date of the Wii U. That’s not hugely surprising – reviews were mostly decent, the device has been out of stock off and on since it debuted, and the company had already upped its production. That was enough to generate almost exactly a billion dollars in revenue, or a little over 20% of the company’s entire revenue for the fiscal year which ended last month. The company’s forecast for the new financial year, which ends next March, is 10 million unit sales. Remarkably, Nintendo has sold ever so slightly more copies of the Zelda game that’s the standout title for the device at launch than of the console itself, which might just be a reflection of those supply constraints. In total, Nintendo appears to have sold around twice as many software units as hardware units in the Switch category, suggesting that people have bought an average of two games from Nintendo for every console. Together with Nintendo’s belated push into mobile gaming, it’s doing pretty well at the moment, though that mobile push is still generating much less revenue – the category which includes smartphone gaming only generated around $200 million in revenue for the year.
Comcast reported Q1 2017 results this morning, and in keeping with past trends, the numbers were generally good. It saw another rise in TV subscribers as the cable companies continue to take share from the telcos, despite the overall trend of cord cutting, and it also saw strong growth in broadband subscribers, which now significantly outnumber its TV subs. Interestingly, it also began placing more emphasis on its home automation and security business this quarter, and reported that it has almost a million subscribers, or around 4% of its broadband base. The big theme that’s emerging from this quarter’s earnings reports from these providers is bundling – Comcast continues to see the percentage of customers taking more than one product rise over time (it’s now reached 71%), while AT&T suffered precisely because it can’t offer broadband/TV bundles to DirecTV customers. The wireless-TV bundles it can offer aren’t the ones consumers are looking for, which makes Comcast’s push into wireless somewhat questionable too. At NBCU, we’re seeing many of the same trends we’ve seen before too – subscriber numbers and viewing are down, but contractual rate increases with MVPDs are driving revenue growth anyway (of course those rate increases are rising costs on the cable side). Ad revenue was down in the cable networks business but up slightly in the broadcast business despite lower ratings because prices have been rising, though my analysis across the TV industry suggests the rate of price increases is slowing dramatically. Comcast continues to be a powerhouse across the categories where it competes (which also includes movies through Universal) but it’s facing some significant headwinds in the form of cord cutting, ratings declines, and rising content costs, which are going to take an increasing toll over the long term.
Note: you can see all my earnings posts or all Q1 2017 earnings posts specifically by clicking on the relevant tags below.