Apple’s best quarter ever is about to be overshadowed by its growth forecast

So it goes.
So it goes.
Image: Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla/
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When Apple reports its first-quarter results today (Jan. 26) after the market closes, it will likely report its highest ever quarterly sales (analysts are forecasting $76.6 billion) and profit (an expected $18 billion).

Investors will immediately skip past these figures for a more important number: Apple’s revenue projection for the current March quarter.

After an amazing period of growth, Apple is now expected to forecast its first year-over-year sales decline in 13 years. Back then, in the March 2003 quarter, just as the iPod was starting to fuel the company’s incredible rise, Apple revenue fell 1% year over year to $1.5 billion. Now, Apple does roughly $1.5 billion in sales every two and a half days.

Wall Street has recently been tempering its expectations. Analysts now, on average, expect Apple to forecast $55.6 billion in second-quarter revenue, according to FactSet. That would represent a roughly 4% year-over-year decrease.

The cause for pessimism: Anticipation of a decline in iPhone shipments, which represent the majority of Apple’s business. Analysts have revised their iPhone shipment estimates downward as the smartphone market continues to mature.

Modest growth is expected to return later in the year as the iPhone 7 launches. Overall, Wall Street is projecting $237 billion in revenue for Apple’s fiscal 2016, which ends in September. That would represent roughly 1% year-over-year growth for the full year, a sharp deceleration from 2015, when Apple’s sales grew 26%. It’s an even sharper contrast with Apple’s performance at the turn of the decade, when quarterly growth routinely passed 50%.

Apple is still a long way from being in trouble. It has more than enough cash in the bank and continues to recruit top hires. CEO Tim Cook has made his first big post-iPhone bet in the Apple Watch, and is reportedly working on another in the automotive industry. But those won’t likely drive growth for years, at least not on the sort of scale necessary to make up for any volatility in the iPhone business.

Join us as we live-chart Apple earnings today beginning at 4pm ET. Click here for the latest Apple coverage from Quartz.