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Apple beats expectations: Is it enough for Wall Street?
The tech giant hauled in a $9.5 billion profit in the second quarter. And yet doubts persist…
 
Apple faces an uncertain future.
Apple faces an uncertain future. Getty Images/Justin Sullivan

Apple CEO Tim Cook must feel like he's taking crazy pills.

The tech giant on Tuesday evening announced a staggering $9.5 billion profit for the second quarter, on $43.6 billion in revenue, narrowly beating analysts' expectations.

In addition, the company announced that it was boosting its stock dividend by 15 percent, and increasing its stock buyback program to $60 billion, from $10 billion, which Apple claims is the largest share repurchase plan in history. In total, the company will spend $100 billion through 2015 to please its investors.

And yet Apple's stock price, which has tumbled to the $400 region from a stratospheric high of $700 last fall, barely fluttered in after-hours trading.

So what gives?

The fact of the matter is that Apple's earnings report showed signs off slowing growth. Profits, while enormous, are down from the previous year. Sales of the iPhone, the company's most popular product, grew only 3 percent. And the company's gross margins — a closely watched barometer that measures revenue minus direct costs for production — fell, meaning the company is making less money per device as consumers increasingly buy older models that are cheaper.

It's just the latest evidence that the tech world paradigm has shifted, with Apple facing stiffer competition from Samsung and Google. As Matt Krantz at USA Today writes:

For years, Apple's stock has been powered by the fact the company could charge seemingly whatever price it wanted for smartphones and wireless carriers would be forced to pay up, or draw the ire of consumers.

But as competition in the smartphone area heats up, and Apple gets met or exceeded on technology or price by rivals like Samsung and Nokia, the fear is that pricing power is eroding. [USA Today]

Despite the fact that Apple continues to rake in profits, many say it's clear that an era has ended. "The rarity of Apple's decline in profit, which was expected, underscores how one of the most remarkable winning streaks in business has come to an end, at least for now," writes Nick Wingfield at The New York Times.

Furthermore, doubts about Cook's ability to unveil another groundbreaking product like the iPhone or the iPad were bolstered in a conference call with investors, in which Cook said Apple planned to release "some really great stuff in the fall and all across 2014."

"This is a total buzz kill," says Jay Yarow at Business Insider, noting that analysts had expected a new iPhone this summer. "If Cook was being literal, that would mean Apple goes almost an entire year without a new product. In the technology industry, that's a long, long time."

Which brings us to that huge $100 billion share buyback and dividend program. It shows that "Apple is officially no longer a high-growth tech stock, valued on its monster potential," writes Felix Salmon at Reuters. "Instead, it has become a cash cow, valued on its ability to pump hundreds of billions of dollars into its shareholders’ pockets."

You can bet that all eyes will be on Apple when markets open tomorrow, as investors respond the latest report.

 
Ryu Spaeth is deputy editor at TheWeek.com.

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