Apple (AAPL) Blows Away Estimates

Apple’s (AAPL) fiscal third quarter is the first time we get to see how the mega-hyped iPad performed, and the company has to be pretty happy with the results. Sales of the world’s most famous tablet computer were in-line with expectations at 3.27 million.

That performance helped the company do something that everybody knew it was going to do anyway: easily beat quarterly EPS expectations. Apple earned $3.51 per share during the quarter, compared to the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $3.08. This continues one of the most impressive earnings trends in the market, as the company has outperformed quarterly expectations for several years now.

Revenue was a record $15.7 billion, compared to $9.73 billion last year. That’s a full billion dollars more than what many analysts were expecting. International sales accounted for 52% of the revenue.

In addition to iPad sales, the company sold 8.4 million iPhones in the quarter, which marked a 61% increase in unit growth over last year. Despite some recent problems with its antenna, the iPhone 4 has become the company’s most successful product launch in its history.

We’ll have to wait and see if this antenna issue will have any type of impact on Apple’s results in the future. The company will hold a news conference on Friday to discuss the situation. Some have called for a recall of the product, but that is highly unlikely.

Meanwhile, Apple sold a record 3.47 million Macs in the quarter, up 33% from last year.

Looking forward, Apple’s extremely conservative guidance for the fiscal fourth quarter, which it will easily beat in a few months, calls for earnings per share around $3.44 on revenue of $18 billion. The Zacks Consensus Estimate is currently at $3.81 per share.

Apple enjoys the best of both worlds; a short-term Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) and a longer-term Outperform recommendation. We believe that the company will put together tremendous growth due to its continuous efforts to expand into international markets, its competitive pricing strategy and its new product launches.

In the week leading up to this quarterly announcement, there had been some improvement in earnings estimates thanks to 12 upward revisions. However, with 41 total estimates this fiscal year, the improvement was less than 1%.

Nevertheless, the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $13.88 per share is up 15.7% from 3 months ago, including a gain of 2.7% on the back of 29 upward revisions. There have been no downward revisions in the past 30 days.

It’s a similar story for the fiscal year ending September 2011. The Zacks Consensus Estimate of $16.38 per share has improved by a few pennies in the past week due to 7 upward revisions out of 40 total estimates, but the real trend can be seen by stepping back. The guidance is up 16.4% in 3 months and 4.2% in 30 days on 25 upward revisions. (Interestingly, there has been a single downward revision in the past 7 days for the fiscal year).

The guidance for fiscal 2011 suggests year-over-year profit growth of 18%.

There’ll be a lot more on Apple’s third-quarter report coming soon.

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