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Apple's had a terrible February in China, with a steep drop in iPhone shipments. Other global brands could be turning in equally bad numbers soon. Image Credit: Reuters


Beijing: Apple Inc.’s iPhone shipments in China plunged more than 60 per cent in February, when the coronavirus outbreak shut down scores of its stores and hampered key manufacturing partners across its largest international market.

Shipments of Apple’s marquee device dropped to about 494,600 units from a year earlier, according to Bloomberg calculations based on monthly data from the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology. Overall mobile phone shipments, including Android devices, slid 56 per cent to 6.4 million units.

Those year-earlier comparisons were skewed by the fact that the Lunar New Year holidays fell in February of 2019, versus January this year.

Wreaking havoc

Since erupting in China in January, the Covid-19 epidemic has hit Apple’s supply and demand. Factories resumed work slower than expected and most of its 42 stores lay dormant for weeks, driving home the US giant’s exposure to disruptions in the world’s No. 2 economy. While factories are gradually restarting after enforced quarantine, lingering production bottlenecks risk hurting global iPhone revenue in coming months.

Apple has seen a “doomsday type” decline in iPhone sales out of China as a result of the coronavirus, though the impact should be short-lived, Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives wrote. But if the outbreak persists into the second quarter, it threatens to hold up the launch of Apple’s fifth-generation capable or 5G iPhones, expected toward the latter half of 2020, UBS analyst Timothy Arcuri wrote.

Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook has called the outbreak a challenge. In the past few weeks, his company has warned retail employees about shortages of replacement iPhones, scrapped its quarterly revenue forecast and encouraged staff in Silicon Valley to work from home.

It remains unclear how the epidemic will impact longer-term supply: Apple’s primary manufacturing partner, Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., has said its factories in China will be back to normal by the end of the month.

$167billion

What Apple has lost in market value since its 2020 peak. This does not include the tumult of March 9, when stock markets worldwide crashed.