Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. reported quarterly profit above analysts’ estimates, indicating solid demand for Apple Inc.’s iPhone 11 range.
The assembler of most of the world’s iPhones and iPads posted net income of NT$30.7 billion ($1 billion) for the September quarter, compared with an average estimate of NT$27.7 billion.
Apple last month forecast holiday revenue that surpassed Wall Street’s projections, suggesting healthy appetite for iPhone 11 models with lower entry prices and vastly improved cameras. It’s now said to expect iPhone shipments to return to growth in 2020 when it finally introduces its own 5G devices — a boon to hardware suppliers such as Hon Hai and chipmaker Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. coping with a decelerating smartphone market. Assembly partners like Hon Hai and TSMC typically begin gearing up for production weeks, if not months, ahead of a device’s commercial launch.
The outlook for Apple and its main suppliers remains overshadowed by an ongoing trade war. AirPods, Apple Watch, HomePod and other devices made in China have been hit with 15% tariffs, and U.S. President Donald Trump hasn’t ruled out the possibility of a levy on iPhones starting Dec. 15. Hon Hai said it’s getting into the production of wearable gear next year, potentially competing for more Apple business but also increasing its exposure to the trade war.
Hon Hai, which gets half its revenue from its Cupertino, California partner, is now diversifying away from its main Chinese production base to mitigate the impact of potential punitive tariffs. It’s spending more than NT$17 billion building factories in India and Vietnam, responding to customers’ needs, Chief Financial Officer David Huang said at an earnings conference. Those two countries will become regional manufacturing hubs, he added.
Hon Hai’s investment encapsulates a fundamental trend that’s beginning to shake up production of most of the world’s electronics. Taiwanese companies like Hon Hai, which today make most of the most recognizable brands, began investing in China decades ago, kicking off a transformation that’s made China the world’s factory floor. But faced with growing trade tensions and U.S. tariffs, the leaders of those companies — which typically operate on wafer-thin margins — are reconsidering their commitment to China.
Although any pivot away from the country is just starting, factories that leave won’t come back anytime soon. In Hon Hai’s case, billionaire founder Terry Gou has even promised to shift jobs and production into the American heartland. Gou has said he intends to press ahead with construction of a display panel factory in the state of Wisconsin, an endeavor once tagged as a $10 billion investment but that has fallen far behind schedule. Vice Chairman Jay Lee said that project was “‘on track.” Hon Hai has completed initial construction on the first, main factory and the company will also target the defense and aviation markets with its panels, he added.
Hon Hai executives also forecast a rebound in consumer electronics demand in 2020, which could help prop up its top line. The company reported NT$1.39 trillion in sales for the September quarter, barely changed from a year earlier. Chairman Young Liu said the firm’s goal is to achieve 10% gross margins within three to five years. Its shares closed down 1.4% ahead of the earnings on Wednesday, after gaining 27% this year.
“The lower pricing of the iPhone 11 has been effective in driving demand past the Street’s expectations,” Sean Lin, an analyst at President Capital Management Corp., said in a Nov. 4 note.