★ Lenovo Reports Q2 Loss, Flat Smartphone Sales (Aug 18, 2017)
Snap Inc reported earnings for Q2 2017 this afternoon, and it missed analyst consensus estimates pretty much across the board, with lower user growth, ARPU, and therefore revenue, as well as EPS, than expected. Snap’s user growth sequentially was 7 million, a little above its Q4 2016 number but below every other quarter’s growth for the last two years. Interestingly, in a reversal of the recent trend from Facebook, it saw better growth in North America, where its ARPU potential is much higher (currently 5x Europe and 7x Rest of World) but costs to serve are more or less the same than in its two other regions. But if user growth is going to remain slow, ARPU really has to grow rapidly, and it’s not yet seeing the kind of ramp it needs in that trajectory to justify rising expectations of its future performance. Though it saw 60% of its recent ad impressions generated through its self-serve and automated (API) platforms, the increased inventory made available through those platforms has generated lower prices per ad, so even though impressions went up quite a bit thanks to increased time spent and modest user growth, that offset it somewhat.
Management commentary on the call was mostly focused on the new creative tools being made available to users, which have historically driven increased engagement, as well as the evolving ad platform, which is the other major component to driving ARPU up. But the evidence from the Q2 reported numbers suggests neither of these is dramatically changing the trajectory from prior quarters. There is still tons of headroom in ARPU – Facebook’s global ad ARPU is over four times Snap’s, while its North American ARPU is roughly ten times as high – but Snap is a long way from reaching that level yet, with relatively modest increases in North America in the quarter and better growth overseas. My basic thesis on Snap remains the same: it’s a platform with a slow-growing and smallish (relative to the ad giants) base of highly-engaged users heavily skewed toward particular demographics. That will continue to be attractive to those looking to reach those demographics, but will continue to fall short of the appeal of the much bigger audiences and more sophisticated ad tools available at Google and Facebook. I don’t see any of that changing soon, which means Snap is best seen as its own animal, at similar scale to Twitter (though that scale is measured differently) and with some of the same problems. In other Snap news today, Mashable’s Kerry Flynn reports that it has apparently acquired selfie drone company Zero Zero Robotics. There was no mention of this on the call, but if I heard correctly management did mention roughly $200 million in acquisition costs in the quarter, which would gel with this reporting.
Square Reports Strong Growth and Shrinking Losses in Q2 (Aug 2, 2017)
Apple reported its fiscal third quarter / calendar second quarter results today, and they came in at the high end of its guidance and beat analyst estimates. One of the biggest surprises was strong iPad unit growth year on year after four years of declines, and just the second quarter of revenue growth for iPads during that period, thanks largely to sales of the lower-priced $329 iPad introduced earlier this year. But Apple said all its product categories saw year on year revenue and unit growth, with Apple Watch reportedly growing 50% year on year, and Mac and iPhone unit growth up modestly, while the Services business continued on its recent tear, driven largely by the App Store, but also to an extent by Apple Music and iCloud storage plans. iPhone ASPs were up modestly year on year driven by stronger sales of the latest Plus models, and would have been up more if not for the fact that the company sold down its inventory significantly, with almost all the reduction being made up of more expensive phones.
Perhaps more significantly for the longer term outlook, the company provided guidance for the September quarter which essentially guarantees new iPhone hardware in September. I would guess that at the very least Apple will have the successors to the current phones on sale in the usual timeframe and in the usual volumes, while my hunch is that the new higher-end model will also go on sale at the same time but be even more heavily supply-constrained than new iPhones usually are.
Apple continued to talk up performance in mainland China as distinct from the Greater China region it reports, where sales were down 10% year on year, the best result in nearly two years, but still a drag on overall results with other regions all growing, all but Japan at double digit rates. Tim Cook also addressed the issue of VPNs in China which I wrote about yesterday, and defended Apple’s stance, which is a combination of following the law in each country where it operates, and believing that it’s better to engage and stay in a country than leave, even where it disagrees with policy (my notes on this portion can be seen here).
Overall, Apple’s management on the call seemed as bullish as they have for some time, clearly looking forward to what they expect to be a strong finish to the year in both product and financial terms. Tim Cook wasn’t drawn the slightest bit on new iPhones, but did hint at new products this fall, talked about the role of autonomy beyond vehicles and Apple’s big project in this area, raved about ARKit and the potential of AR, among other things. There’s clearly a good mix of products coming to market in the near term and investment for the long term which Apple’s management is also happy about. That’s no guarantee of a strong performance in the September or more importantly the December quarter, but I continue to be pretty bullish on what’s coming over the next few months from Apple.
Pandora’s Premium Subscription Growth Slows in Q2 (Jul 31, 2017)
Baidu Q2 Results Rebound Significantly From Recent Weakness (Jul 28, 2017)
This may help explain why Netflix laid out its content economics in even more detail than usual in last week’s earnings material: it’s apparently taking out a further $500 million line of credit, with an option to extend that by an additional $250 million. The driver is clearly its rapidly growing investment in original content, which has to be paid for up front, in contrast to the existing content it licenses, which is paid for as it’s made available on the site. All of that means that shifting to original content pushes cash burn much earlier in the process and thereby dramatically increases Netflix’s negative free cash flow, something I explained in some detail in this Variety piece last month. As I’ve said before, there’s no real reason why this should be a concern for investors, as long as Netflix is able to keep up its rapid pace of revenue growth, which is currently more than enough to fund its content investments and justify its increased borrowing. But the company’s debt load continues to rise fairly rapidly and at some point it will need to ease off and see that free cash flow picture change to something more positive.
★ Amazon Reports Strong Growth, Much Smaller Margins in Q2 (Jul 27, 2017)
LG Reports Weak Smartphone Results, Losses in Q2 (Jul 27, 2017)
I’ve already commented this quarter on Samsung’s preliminary results, which let us know that it would report record high revenues and operating income. But we had to wait until its final and full results for the quarter were out to know the contributions made by its various divisions, though I’d had a good guess in that first comment. As expected, the Semiconductors division (which includes memory, ASICs, and Samsung’s new separate foundry business) was by far the strongest performer in the quarter, growing 47% year on year and contributing 57% of operating income for the company on just 27% of its revenue. That was driven, as expected, by a combination of market growth and price increases, with memory making up nearly 80% of sales. But the IT & Mobile division, which has been stagnant or declining in recent quarters, also contributed to revenue growth, up 17% year on year, the best in several years. A big contributor was the shift of the company’s Galaxy S launch from Q1 to Q2 this year, which had sent Q1 revenues down 15% year on year but boosted the year on year comparison this time around. Profits and margins, though, were both down on last year in the mobile division, suggesting perhaps because of the expenses associated with the launch shifting from Q1 to Q2 as well, and perhaps because the company is making a big marketing push around one of its most compelling flagships in several years. My bet is that the rest of Samsung’s year will go as well as its first half, based largely on the combination of higher chip prices, growing components shipments, and a big boost from Apple OLED orders for its new phones. Some of those drivers will ease next year, especially if other suppliers are able to ramp up OLED production to help meet Apple’s needs in the next generation of phones, but Samsung’s on a pretty healthy trajectory right now and there’s not much sign of that stopping. The biggest short term question is how it will position the Note 8 that’s due to launch next month, given the increases in usable screen size in the Galaxy S line and last year’s troubles, and how competitive it and the Galaxy S8 will be versus the new iPhones launched a month later by Apple.
via Samsung (PDF)