Apple’s Tim Cook sounds incredibly depressed about the global economy

Dude, you’re bumming us out.
Dude, you’re bumming us out.
Image: AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
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Apple is bumming us out.

The world’s largest publicly traded company offered an incredibly depressing assessment of the state of the global economy whilst updating investors on its most recent quarterly earnings Tuesday.

Even accounting for the fact that companies often emphasize tough economic conditions as a backdrop to less-than-stellar performance, the language Apple executives used was stark. Here’s a key sample of Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook’s introductory remarks:

We’re seeing extreme conditions unlike anything we have experienced before, just about everywhere we look. Major markets including Brazil, Russia, Japan, Canada, Southeast Asia, Australia, Turkey and the Eurozone have been impacted by slowing economic growth, falling commodity prices, and weakening currencies.

Cook also flicked at emerging weakness in China: “We began to see some signs of economic softness in Greater China earlier this month, most notably in Hong Kong.”

Of course, this should surprise no one. For commodity-centric economies, the sharp decline in oil prices tied to surging production and weak global demand, especially from a slowing China, has been headline news for the last year. (Not to put too fine a point on it, the International Monetary Fund’s update on the world economy, published Jan. 19, was sullenly subtitled “Subdued Demand, Diminished Prospects.”)

But Apple offers a case study of how the slowing global economic backdrop is having an impact on even the strongest companies located in the relatively robust US economy. For instance, Apple’s revenue from its Americas group—which includes Brazil—declined 4% during the quarter, thanks in part to Brazil’s ugly economic conditions, which have sent the currency cratering by roughly 38% over the last 12 months. (That means sales made in Brazil are worth less and less once they are translated back into US dollars.) And in Greater China sales slowed sharply to 14% during the first quarter, compared to a growth rate of 70% in the first quarter of 2015.

So does that necessarily mean the global economy is set on a doom loop?

Not really. If companies continue to invest, the economy could continue to muddle along.

That seems to be the approach Apple is taking. ”Even in the markets where today, grantedly, it looks fairly bleak, from Russia and Brazil and some of the other economies that are … oil-based economies, we do believe that this too shall pass and that these countries will be great places and we want to serve customers in there,” Cook said. “And so we’re not retrenching. That’s not—we don’t believe in that. We are fortunately…strong enough to continue investing, and we think it’s in Apple’s best long-term interest to do so.”

Of course, the decision to invest in the face of weak global demand is easier to make when you’re sitting on $216 billion in cash.