updated 11:27 pm EST, Fri January 11, 2013
Historical trends, international sales may show record-breaking quarter
A "consensus" of how well Apple did during the holiday quarter last year is hard to come by, with a diverse range of estimates from analysts -- but at least one pundit believes Apple may have had a record quarter, particularly with its flagship product the iPhone, and that other estimates may be flawed due to the difficulty of guessing iPhones sales abroad. Separately, Fortune believes iPad sales could possibly have doubled again this year.
Market analysts Bernstein have tweeted a graphic (seen below) that examines the reported (but not broken down by brand or platform) smartphone sales of the leading US carriers, extrapolating breakouts by looking at historical growth patterns. The company believes that the iPhone accounted for 81 percent of AT&T's sales (approximately 8.1 million units), about 60 percent of Verizon's sales (just under six million units) and 2.77 million for Sprint, adding up to 16.75 million units in the US alone.
Presuming that US sales make up 40 percent of the total, calendar fourth-quarter sales of the iPhone could reach nearly 42 million units, but more likely figures of between 30-35 percent of total sales could mean that Apple was able to sell between 47 and 56 million units, making a 50 million unit figure probable. Consensus results put the figure at around 47.6 million.
Though the iPhone 5 in particular was highly constrained during the early part of the quarter, Apple was equally aggressive in rolling out the product to other countries, much more so than with previous iPhone launches -- which may play a significant factor in what percentage of overall sales US numbers indicate. Apple was even able to launch the iPhone 5 (and iPad and iPad mini) into China, albeit late in the quarter. Forecasts are also being weighted by the fact that the holiday quarter in 2012 was one week shorter than it was in 2011.
Rounding up analysts both professional and enthusiast for its own consensus forecast, Fortune found that estimates on iPad sales (which include the fourth-generation full-sized iPad, the new iPad mini as well as the still-available iPad 2) may have doubled its holiday sales again for the third year running, though figures that estimate over 30 million units were sold in the quarter (twice the 15.4 million Apple sold in calendar Q4 2011) are among the most bullish on Apple.
The median estimate among the 56 professional and blogger analysts queried by Fortune was around 24 million units, with the independents more optimistic (25.5 million) than the Wall Street pros (22.8 million). Historically, the independents are generally much closer to the true number than the professionals. The lowest estimate was Kelleher's 16.8 million units, while Braeburn Group's Dennis Hildebrand has it at 32 million sold.
Unlike most competitors, Apple's shipping figures are almost the same as its sell-through figures; even now, the company is struggling to meet demand for the iPad mini, which has proven to be an even bigger hit than its larger cousin if rumors and supplier checks prove accurate. Even at the median rate, the iPad may see 67 percent year-over-year growth, not quite as spectacular as the near-100 percent rates seen in the first years of the iPad but still impressive by measure with any other company's figures, and in particular when compared to the overall slump in the desktop and even notebook PC categories.
Apple will announces the results of its fiscal Q1 2013 on Wednesday, January 23 shortly after the markets have closed for the day. Presently, the stock continues to bob up and down around a 10-month low, in the neighborhood of $520 a share -- down significantly from its high of just over $700, but still representing nearly a 30 percent return for the year.