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Apple is about to report its biggest quarter of all time — and it might not be enough

Sales could pass $90 billion on a strong iPhone X launch.

Apple CEO Tim Cook applauds along with Apple store employees Justin Sullivan / Getty

Apple will report its fiscal first quarter results today after the market closes. Join Recode for live Apple earnings coverage and analysis beginning at 4:30 pm ET, 1:30 pm PT. (Update: The numbers are out.)

It’s likely to be Apple’s biggest quarter ever — at least by revenue — and possibly a real blockbuster. Specifically, Apple could report more than $90 billion in quarterly sales for the first time ever — up from its previous record of $78.4 billion a year ago — beating Apple’s own forecast of $84 billion to $87 billion, and representing another quarter of accelerating revenue growth.

How? For starters, it was the holiday quarter, when Apple always puts up its biggest sales numbers.

But Apple also started shipping the iPhone X in November — its biggest iPhone launch in years. And some analysts now predict that Apple was able to manufacture and sell more during the period than they had anticipated. That, combined with the iPhone X’s higher price tag, could have better-than-expected positive effects on Apple’s iPhone shipments, average selling price and total revenue.

  • Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty writes that Apple produced as many as six million to seven million more iPhone X units than she had originally modeled, causing her to raise her December quarter iPhone shipment projection to 80 million and a total revenue forecast of $92.2 billion — well above the analyst consensus of $87.3 billion. (She also cites survey results that point to a successful quarter in China, where Apple’s sales had dropped over the past couple of years and seem to have rebounded.)
  • Gene Munster, the former longtime Piper Jaffray analyst who’s now a startup investor via Loup Ventures, predicts 83 million iPhone units.
  • Neil Cybart, who publishes an influential Apple-centric investor newsletter called Above Avalon, predicts $95.6 billion in sales on 82 million iPhone shipments.

The potential consequence: If Apple’s December quarter was much larger than projected — especially if iPhone X supply/demand issues were ironed out sooner than expected — it’s possible that will take some steam out of Apple’s March quarter forecast, which could then appear disappointing.

Many analysts are already bracing for that. And there has been a lot of noise this quarter from the supply chain — always questionable — about Apple’s supposed iPhone X manufacturing plans.

As of now, Munster expects a forecast of $63 billion to $66 billion for the March quarter, which he writes is “good enough” considering Street consensus of almost $66 billion. Cybart expects an even lower range of $62 billion to $65 billion.

But there are real questions about ongoing iPhone X demand that Apple will either answer with a confident or tepid projection for the March quarter. Will it be closer to $60 billion or $70 billion? Is this a “super cycle” or not? That could overshadow any success from the holidays.

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