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Earnings preview: Wall Street expects record $77.4B revenue in Apple's best quarter in history

After a period of declining sales, Apple is expected to have returned to growth in the holiday 2016 shopping season, riding high on the popularity of the new iPhone 7 series.

Apple will report the results of its December quarter later today after markets close. Market consensus calls for the company to report revenue of $77.4 billion, and $3.23 earnings per share.

Analyst Amit Daryanani of RBC Capital Markets is slightly below consensus, calling for $76.9 billion in revenue and $3.15 earnings per share. Though lower than market expectations, Daryanani's forecast would still best Apple's December 2015 quarter, when the company sold 74.8 million iPhones on its way to $75.9 billion in revenue.

Meanwhile Steven Milunovich of UBS expects Apple will slightly exceed expectations, calling for revenue of $77.8 billion and earnings per share of $3.24.

Wall Street generally believes Apple will report sales of 78 million iPhones for the three-month period, which would also represent the company's best-quarter ever for handset sales. Driven by adoption of the iPhone 7 Plus, the iPhone's average selling price is expected to grow to $685.

Looking forward to the March quarter, the market expects continued year-over-year growth. Consensus estimates are forecasting $53.8 billion in revenue and $2.09 earnings per share, with 53.5 million iPhone sales expected, besting the $50.6 billion in revenue and 51.2 million iPhones sold by the company in the March 2016 quarter.

Still, those numbers would remain lower than two years prior, when the blockbuster iPhone 6 led to 61 million iPhone sales and $58.01 billion in revenue.

Looking longer term, analysts remain bullish on shares of AAPL, and recommend that investors buy in. Timothy Arcuri of Cowen and Company has maintained an "outperform" rating with a $135 price target, while UBS has a price forecast of $127, and RBC's "outperform" rating comes with a $125 target.

The results of Apple's first quarter of fiscal 2017 will be announced after markets close at 4 p.m. Eastern, 1 p.m. Pacific this afternoon. A conference call with Chief Executive Tim Cook and Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri will follow at 5 p.m. Eastern, 2 p.m. Pacific. AppleInsider will have full, live coverage.