Apple earnings preview: Analysts expect huge iPhone sales

January 23, 2012

Wall Street analysts are expecting big things from Apple this quarter as the company prepares to report its first-quarter earnings — the first to include sales figures of the company’s best-selling iPhone 4S.

The phone went on sale in mid-October and was an immediate hit; the company reported that it sold more than 4 million units of the phone in the first weekend. Apple hasn’t released sales figures since then, but analysts have estimated that the company has sold around 30 million handsets since the fall launch.

In its last earnings report — which was held after the launch of the iPhone 4S, but did not report its sales data— Apple missed analyst estimates with lower-than-expected iPhone sales. Last quarter, analysts averaged estimates of 20 million iPhone sales prompting a late stock sell-off when Apple reported sales of 17 million units. Many blamed the miss on on overexcited analysts.

“Expectations just got too hot,” said Colin Gillis, a technology analyst for BGC told The Washington Post in October, “Just to hit expectations, Apple has to sell over half-a-million devices every single day.”

This quarter, as Fortune’s Phililp Elmer-Dewitt noted, even the most conservative analysts are projecting record iPhone sales. Of the nearly 40 analysts he polls every quarter, the lowest estimate for iPhone sales was 25.2 million.

Sales of the iPad 2 are expected to be strong as well, thanks to what’s believed to have been a strong holiday season. The Pew Internet and American Life project released a report Monday that found tablet and e-reader ownership doubled over the course of the holiday season. And while the report didn’t go into brand specifics, it’s likely that the industry-leading iPad 2 saw a windfall from those sales.

Apple may also give some insight into its ever-expanding retail empire, following on the heels of the company’s decision to open a store in Grand Central Station and an announcement that the company will put small boutiques in Target stores across the country.

Anticipating a good quarter, Apple shares are already rising slightly today, up 1.27 percent at noon.

Related stories:

Apple report reveals labor, environmental violations

Apple boutiques coming to Target stores

Apple CEO Cook pay could lead in 2011 with $378 million pay package due to restricted stock

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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