Earnings preview: Wall Street expects 57M iPhones shipped in a record March quarter for Apple

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Apple is once again expected to have set a new quarterly record in March when it announces earnings this afternoon, with investors on average expecting blockbuster iPhone sales to drive about $56 billion in revenue.

Apple will report the results of its March quarter after markets close later today. According to analyst Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray, Wall Street estimates call for the company to have shipped about 57 million iPhones in the three-month span.

That would easily set a new record for the company — in the same quarter a year ago, Apple shipped a then-best 43.7 million iPhones.

Beyond the iPhone, a big part of today's call is expected to be Apple's reassessment of its massive capital return program, which includes both a quarterly dividend and a share buyback program.

Munster believes Apple will have a "headline number" of about $170 billion for its revamped capital return program. The company had a massive $179 billion in cash at the end of the preceding December quarter.

Apple first announced a $45 billion capital reinvestment program in March of 2012, funding a quarterly dividend and share repurchases. The company increased its plan to $100 billion in April of 2013.

Remaining consensus for the March quarter calls for Apple to have shipped 14 million iPads and 4.7 million Macs. Investors generally expect gross margins of about 39.5 percent, which would be on the high end of Apple's guidance range.

And while analysts will undoubtedly be clamoring for sales figures on the Apple Watch, it's highly unlikely that Apple will provide any hard data on the newly debuted product during today's call. Friday's launch falls under the June quarter, and Apple has already said it will not be giving out unit numbers for the wearable device.

Revenue excluding foreign exchange is expected on Wall Street to be $56 billion, while reported revenue including foreign exchange should be about $54 billion. Apple's guidance for the March quarter was between $52 billion and $55 billion. Finally, investors expect earnings per share to be around $2.12.

Apple will report its March quarter results this afternoon after markets close. The company's executive team will then hold a conference call with analysts and members of the media at 2 p.m. Pacific, 5 p.m. Eastern. AppleInsider will have full coverage.


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