Financial experts forecast more bad news for Apple

Gaze into crystal balls, see another contraction in iPhone sales

Later today Apple will once again announce a sales decline for its biggest product lines, including the iPhone, the company's financial powerhouse, according to more than two dozen analysts.

The September quarter results will be highlighted by a 6% year-over-year reduction in iPhone sales, making the third consecutive quarter of smartphone slump. The good news? The contraction will be less than half of the two previous quarters.

Apple's continued problems were spelled out by Philip Elmer-DeWitt, who runs the subscription-based Apple 3.0 website. Elmer-DeWitt has been collecting data from financial analysts for years -- starting when he blogged for Fortune -- and the seven independent and 21 institutional experts he queried forecast a drop in unit sales of the iPhone, iPad and Mac, and another decline in total revenue.

For last year's September quarter, Apple reported revenue of $51.5 billion, and said it sold 48.1 million iPhones, 9.9 million iPads and 5.7 million Macs. The Mac number was a single-quarter record.

Although the 28 analysts' estimates collated by Elmer-DeWitt pegged revenue for this year's September quarter at between $47.1 billion and $49.5 billion -- a spread that topped Apple's guidance of $45.5 billion to $47.5 billion -- their average was $47.2 billion, which would represent a year-over-year decline of 8%. That would be about half the decline of the June quarter, which was down 15%.

(For the June quarter, Elmer-DeWitt's pre-earnings panel average of $42.1 billion in revenue came close to Apple's reported $42.4 billion.)

The blame for the downbeat estimate was, as in the last two quarters, the expected poor performance of the iPhone, which in the June quarter accounted for about 57% of Apple's total revenue. Elmer-DeWitt's analyst pool prophesied that Apple sold 45.1 million iPhones in the September period, a 6% drop from last year.

Apple's other product legs will also be shakier than in 2015, the analysts bet. Their average on the iPad was 9.1 million tablets sold, a decline of 7% from 2015's September quarter, and a tad less than the 9% contraction in the June quarter. Mac sales should total 5.1 million, for a 11% decline, virtually the same as the June quarter.

The bright spot will remain Services, which Apple has aggressively touted as the boomtown on its books. That bucket -- which includes revenue from iTunes, the App Store, AppleCare, iCloud, Apple Pay, and licensing -- will climb 19.5% to $6.1 billion, the panelists said. If their estimate average ends up on target, Services would account for 13% of Apple's total revenue, more than the contribution of either the iPad or the Mac over the previous three quarters, but a smaller slice of the pie than in the June quarter.

Apple will audio-stream its earnings call today starting at 2 p.m. PT (5 p.m. ET), when it will reveal whether the forecasts hit the bulls-eye or missed by a country mile.

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