Apple Earnings Preview: Here’s What You Need to Know

Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) will report March quarter (fiscal Q2) results this afternoon after the bell.

Most signs point to a big quarter for Apple, including the start of iPhone sales (and channel fill) at Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), the iPad 2 launch, and the new MacBook Pros.

But a legal filing released this week — Apple is suing Samsung, basically for copying it — included some potentially worrisome numbers about iPad shipments. Specifically, Apple’s language in the filing could be interpreted as suggesting that it only sold about 4+ million iPads this quarter, which would be materially lower than the 6-8 million expected by many analysts.

Many have shrugged this off, suggesting that it might not include iPad 2 shipments, or that it doesn’t include sales during the month of March, which are both plausible explanations.

But it’s also possible that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) really did have a weak iPad quarter. We know that Apple had a very hard time meeting iPad 2 demand during the quarter, that many consumers knew the iPad 2 was coming ahead of time and may not have purchased an original iPad during the lead-up, and that the December quarter was huge for iPad shipments.

The good news is that the iPad is less important to Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) revenue and profits than the higher-margin iPhone, and wording from the same legal filing suggests upside to the iPhone numbers — 18 million or so during the quarter. So it could work out in the end — the rest of Apple could definitely make up for those iPads.

The other big number people will be looking at is Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) guidance.

The expectation now is that Apple will guide even more conservatively than in the past, because of production issues after the Japan (NYSE:EWJ) earthquake, and because the iPhone 5 is now expected to launch during the September quarter, not the June quarter. So unless guidance is really terrible, the stock shouldn’t take much of a hit.

For context, last year, after posting $13.5 billion in March quarter sales and $3.33 in EPS, Apple guided June quarter sales to $13.2 billion (down 2%) and EPS to $2.34 (down 30%).

Key Stats:

March qtr. revenue: $23.34 billion Street consensus, $24.86 high Street estimate, $25.34 billion “blogger” consensus, $25.7 billion “real” expectations (based on prior performance vs. guidance)

March qtr. EPS: $5.36 Street consensus, $5.98 high Street estimate, $6.33 “blogger” consensus, $7.06 “real” expectations (probably too high)

March qtr. iPad shipments: 6.2 million Street consensus (via Piper Jaffray), 6.8 million “blogger” consensus

March qtr. iPhone shipments: 16.6 million Street consensus (via Piper Jaffray), 18 million “blogger” consensus

March qtr. Mac shipments: 3.6 million Street consensus (via Piper Jaffray), 3.7 million “blogger” consensus

June qtr. revenue guidance: $23.8 billion Street consensus, $23.4 billion Piper Jaffray expectations

June qtr. EPS guidance: $5.25 Street consensus, $4.73 Piper Jaffray expectations

Do more research on Apple at our Stock Research center >>

Dan Frommer is a Senior Staff Writer at Business Insider.

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