Brush up on financial lingo for Apple’s quarterly earnings call


Learn the financial lingo to get the most out of earnings call chatter.
Learn the financial lingo to get the most out of earnings call chatter.
Photo: Kevin Dooley/Flickr CC

When companies talk about quarterly earnings, executives often deploy language designed to puff up, excuse or obfuscate their companies’ recent performance. The goal is to excite investors over implied future success. And ultimately to give the company more money. Always. More. Money. The Apple quarterly earnings call takes place Thursday afternoon.

But when you’re the iPhone giant — with a mind-blowing market cap and a seemingly never-ending supply of hit products, including ongoing growth in services — you typically don’t need to craft hopeful-yet-non-material statements or deflect questions designed to get at the bottom line.

So CEO Tim Cook and CFO Luca Maestri will report on all the numbers. Analysts expect poor iPhone sales to dampen the quarter while artificial intelligence developments might bring hope for the future. Note that Apple’s counts the period as Q2 because it starts its fiscal year with Q1 in the previous year’s holiday season.

At any rate, Apple’s call is likely to be no exception to the earnings-call rules of financial wordiness and exaggerated success. If you’re not a pro investor, the financial terms and buzzwords rattled off by Cook and Maestri can be confusing.

So Cult of Mac attempted to shed light on some of typical earnings-report jargon below.

Apple earnings call on May 2, 2024

First a bit of background. Apple’s earnings call will follow the issuance of the company’s quarterly earnings report, which will be all about the hard numbers. During the earnings call, Cook and Maestri will read prepared statements and take questions from Wall Street analysts. It’s all an attempt to put the earnings report’s hard numbers into context for investors.

Cupertino likely will not struggle as much as some companies to justify its recent numbers. It’s a money machine, after all. (Just look at the transcript from the last quarterly call.)

As the most profitable company in the world, Apple’s value remains well above $2 trillion, roughly the gross domestic product of South Korea. But as financial advisers often warn investors, past performance is not an indicator of future success.

If you want to listen in, Apple’s earnings call is scheduled for Thursday at 2 p.m. Pacific time. If it’s your first time, be sure to read our glossary of terms before the call.

Earnings call glossary of terms


On Apple earnings calls, Maestri regularly mentions ASP without spelling out that it refers to a product’s average sale price (sometimes referred to as average selling price). It is often mentioned in the context of fluctuations in overall sales volume. Both go up and down.

ARPU (average revenue per unit/user)

Sometimes an analyst will state the term ARPU as “ar-poo,” as one did on the a recent earnings call. It abbreviates ” average revenue per unit (or user).” It refers to total revenue divided by the number of a product or service’s users or subscribers.

Basis points

A basis point is a measurement finance folks use to describe the percentage change in the value of something, like a company’s gross margin or the effect of a rate change on a financial instrument like an index fund. One basis point is equivalent to 0.01% (1/100th of a percent). It’s a small-sounding thing used to describe a big thing, like an increase in Apple’s profits.


This refers to capital expenditures, or what Apple spends on “property, plant and equipment (PP&E).” These are considered long-term expenses, as opposed to OPEX, or operating expenses, which are more like day-to-day expenses (payroll, rent, marketing, etc.).

The company sharply reduced its CAPEX spending over the past few years, then jacked it up hugely in 2021 — to 3.5 billion.

That’s just three months’ worth, but on an annual basis, that would be about the same as the GDP of Cambodia.

Challenging compare

Maestri and Cook sometimes refer to a “challenging compare” or a “difficult compare” when a previous quarter’s outsized success makes the current quarter look weaker than it actually is. “We had a difficult compare because this time last year we had the extremely successful launch of the redesigned M1 MacBook Pros,” Cook said on the February 2023 earnings call.

Channel inventory

A manufacturer like Apple sells a lot of its products to customers through retailers. When Apple sells in bulk to a retailer like Target or Amazon, but the retailer has not yet sold the products to consumers at a mark-up in price, those products are considered “channel inventory.” It’s also known as “sell in,” whereas inventory later sold by retailers is known as “sell through.”

The manufacturer may not be able to pinpoint amounts of channel inventory unless the retailer reports its sales. Think of the retailer as the channel.

Constant-currency basis

On the February 2023 earnings call, Cook and Maestri referred numerous times to revenue figures considered on a “constant-currency basis” against strong foreign exchange-rate headwinds.

A “constant currency” is a fixed exchange rate used to remove the impact of exchange-rate fluctuations on financial performance numbers needed for financial statements. It takes out the fluctuations.

Companies with an large international operations, like Apple, tend to use constant-currency numbers to put a different spin on the harder figures they’re required to report.


This word can have numerous applications, but one to note is when it’s used to refer to supply-chain constraints resulting in shortages of products available to ship to buyers, causing longer wait times. “We’re constrained on iPhone,” Maestri acknowledged when an analyst on the November 2023 call asked about the likely easing of constraints in the following quarter, for example.

Diluted shares

Stocks shares in a company refer to all stock held by all shareholders. Diluted shares are the total number of shares if a company exercises all of its convertible shares. (Convertible shares are newly issued shares, stock options, stock warrants, convertible bonds and more.)

A rule of thumb is to see basic share value as how the company is doing right now; diluted share value tells you how it would do in a crisis, if the company had to issue every promised share. By either valuation, Apple is doing quite well.


When they have money, companies generally set an amount to pay to shareholders on a regular basis, usually quarterly. That’s called a dividend. Apple has kind of sucked at this, paying irregularly over the years, and it has been criticized for it. But Apple began again to pay regular dividends recently.


Earnings are the net benefit of a corporation’s operation on which tax is assessed. A company’s stock price is set based on earnings. Therefore, earnings per share is a good way to value a company’s stock.

Last year’s October-to-December quarter was Apple’s biggest one ever. But don’t get your hopes up, or at least not crazy-high up. Cupertino’s quarterly earnings often break records, but it seems unlikely they will this quarter. And analysts will be looking for reasons why Apple will make up any losses.

Fiscal year

For most businesses, the first quarter of a year actually ends in the last week of December. Yes, to you and me that’s the end of the previous calendar year. For companies, that accounts for the typical Q1 holidays sales boost. The fourth quarter gives it up at the end of September.

Gross margin

Gross margin gets at gross profits relative to net sales. Expressed as a percentage, it refers to net sales minus the cost of goods sold. It’s calculated as the selling price of an item, less production costs (but not including indirect fixed costs like administrative expenses). The classic formula is gross margin equals revenue minus cost of goods sold divided by revenue.


When you sail into a headwind, it slows you down. “Headwinds” is financial analyst lingo for issues that may interfere with earnings, such as new taxation, a glut in the market or sales dips related to, well, anything. COVID-19? Sure.

Aside from the pandemic, “headwinds” headlines in the past couple of years have referred to the Biden administration’s proposed tax changes offsetting tax breaks from a few years ago and biting into Apple’s profit.

Holiday season

For most retailers, this refers to late December. For Apple, it almost seems to mean January 1 to December 31, with a bump up at the end. In any case, it’s usually accounted for in the first quarter earnings of the following year.

I don’t know what your wage is, but Apple made $1 billion per day in 2021’s Q1, the one that included the year-end holidays.

Legacy nodes

These are older microchips and components in hardware that help run processes (e.g., driving displays or radio communications). They’re not the exciting new GPU/CPU chip an iPhone or other device might pack, but they’re still important, and supply-chain issues can affect them.


When Maestri refers to “a strong mix” or a “a different mix” having an effect on the numbers, he’s usually referring to the product mix. That is, all Apple products available for sale in a given timeframe, taking into consideration new releases, delayed launches and occasional empty shelves.


Typically defined on the quarterly report’s income statement (not to be confused with the balance sheet or the cash-flow statement), revenue is simply all income a company makes from all sources, such as sales of products and services.

Under this canopy you can assess operating income (revenue minus direct costs) and net income (aka “the bottom line,” it further accounts for things like interest earned or paid and, of course, taxes).

We originally published this post on April 27, 2021 and updated it on July 27, 2021, October 28, 2021, January 27, 2022, April 28, 2022, July 28, 2022, October 27, 2022, February 2, 2023, May 4, 2023, August 3, 2023, November 2, 2023, February 1, 2024 and May 2, 2024.


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