While Apple's fourth quarter results won't be known until late Tuesday, one thing is nearly certain: for the first time annual revenue will exceed $100 billion, maybe by as much as $10 billion.
That will place Apple, already the world's most valuable company, in a technology club whose only other current member is Hewlett-Packard. IBM, with 2010 revenue of $99.9 billion, will likely finish 2011 there, too.
Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple will announce earnings after the closing bell for the first time since Chairman Steve Jobs died Oct. 5. The results won't include anything for shipments of the iPhone 4S because they only began last week, but Apple's discussion of expenses on new products and development may include color on the new iPhone and iOS 5 expenses.
The consensus is for earnings around $7.27 a share on revenue of $29.3 billion. A year ago, it was $4.64 a share on revenue of $20.3 billion.
Apple shares rose only 20 cents at midday to $420.19, giving the company a market capitalization of $389.6 billion.
Here are some items to note in the financial release:
What are gross margins, usually fatter than any other rivals? Apple's third quarter gross margin, or net profit left after expenses, was 39.1 percent, down slightly from 2010.
Assuming strong demand for the entire product line, with the possible exception of lower iPod sales, that line could be higher. Maynard Um, analyst with UBS, expects gross margins of at least 40.4 percent. Under Jobs, Apple's policy was generally to charge more for products that were better-designed and offered more than standard technology items.
What were iPhone 4 shipments? Amid all the hoopla for the iPhone4S and the anticipated iPhone 5, one question may be how the old models did, especially in September, before the iPhone 4S started shipments in October.
Apple has already reported selling more than four million of the new models. Did those customers hold off buying last quarter? Analysts like Um at UBS estimate iPhone shipments were about 21.5 million, nearly triple the third quarter amount.
How about iPad sales? Demand for the iPad 2 is enormous and the last quarter saw HP lay an egg with its TouchPad and Research in Motion's paltry 400,000 BlackBerry PlayBook tablet shipments. With Apple estimated to hold as much as 75 percent market share, what were the actual figures?
Analysts expect Apple sold as many as 11 million iPads; UBS's Um believes they could exceed 12 million. By contrast, Apple sold 9.25 million iPads in the third quarter and only 4.2 million in the year-ago quarter.
How much cash is available? Given expected higher sales and lower prices for many of the chips used in new products, if not the ARM 5 processor in the latest ones, Apple's cash pile should swell above the $76.2 billion level in the last quarter.
The money could be used for acquisitions, which Apple has done judiciously; Siri, the personal assistant in the iPhone 4S, came via acquisition. As well, Apple could announce a share buyback or a first dividend.
Any new shareholder move would be unusual but CEO Tim Cook has been in place less than two months. Many technology giants like HP and IBM pay out healthy dividends. Microsoft paid out a special $30 billion dividend in 2004, set share buybacks and promised to spend $75 billion to enhance shareholder value.
Apple shares have already gained 30.3 percent this year and 411 percent since 2001.
Where is the biggest growth? Key technology rivals like IBM, Dell and HP all derive most revenue from outside the U.S., with especially high demand in the developing countries including China.
Last quarter, China accounted for 13 percent of revenue, but that was before the new Apple store opened in Shanghai. Fourth quarter China sales could account for as much as 15 percent of the total.