Apple's Q4 preview: About those iPhone 5 sales

Analysts expect a big December quarter due to the iPhone 5 and iPad mini. It's the quarter about to be reported that's a wild card.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Apple's fourth quarter earnings report will revolve around sales of the iPhone 5 and prospects for its iPad mini.

Analysts have been dissecting earnings reports from AT&T and Verizon. Those two carriers sold about 2 million iPhone 5 devices collectively. Those sales have been extrapolated to global units for analyst guesstimates for the iPhone 5.

The company is expected to report fiscal fourth quarter earnings of $8.74 a share on revenue of $35.8 billion. For fiscal 2012, Apple is expected to report earnings of $44.28 a share on revenue of $156.3 billion.


Overall, expectations are high for the iPhone 5, but most of the financial impact will be delivered in the fiscal first quarter ending Dec. 31.

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster said in a research note:

The company activated 4.7 million iPhones, which is up 27% q/q. About 1.3 million of those activations appear to be iPhone 5's, suggesting that the US received close to half of the initial 5 million allocation of iPhone 5's from Apple. While we remain comfortable with our 25m iPhone estimate, we note that early activation numbers from AT&T and Verizon suggest potentially stronger sales of non-iPhone 5s than we previously expected.

In other words, the iPhone 4 and 4S devices are still selling reasonably well. It's unclear what that actually means for the iPhone 5 over the long run. Analysts indicate that iPhone 5 sales may have been hampered by supply issues. Apple usually takes a quarter to fill its inventory levels to meet demand.

Jefferies analyst Peter Misek noted that AT&T "received more than its fair share" of iPhone 5 units. AT&T also noted that there was pent-up demand for the iPhone 5. Overall, that reality means that the December quarter will have analysts salivating.

Not all analysts are sold on Apple's fourth quarter results. Wedbush analyst Scott Sutherland noted that Apple could be either in line or miss expectations.

Sutherland said in a research note:

While we have held steady with our estimate of 24.1 million iPhones, including 6 million iPhone 5s, we have seen some Street numbers stretched to very optimistic levels (some >30 million) to only see them reduced. That said, we believe some upside exists to our iPhone estimates. That said, we believe a large part of the issue appears to be supply constraints and not demand for the iPhone 5. Based on iPad shipments as of two weeks ago, we now believe Apple will ship ~15.5 million iPad in FQ4 versus our estimate of 17.5 million. We believe some of the weakness is likely due to the anticipation of the iPad mini and 4th generation iPad.


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