Why a September iPhone launch is important for Apple

Apple Event 10/4 5 Tim Cook and Apple Store Crowd

Apple said Monday morning it took more than 2 million iPhone 5 pre-orders between midnight Pacific Time last Friday and midnight Saturday. The company crowed that that number is double the record number of iPhone 4S pre-orders it took in October 2011 on launch day. Based on these opening numbers it’s pretty clear Apple’s current fiscal quarter, ending Sept. 30, won’t look anything like the same quarter a year ago.

That quarter was, you’ll recall, the first Apple earnings miss in a very long time. How do you “miss” with profits of $6.62 billion, and sales of 17 million iPhones and 11 million iPads? By not blowing away the previous quarter’s iPhone sales. That situation probably has a lot to do with why Apple decided to sell the iPhone 5 at the end of September this year, instead of mid-October like last year. And thanks to the numbers Apple released earlier Monday, we’re already seeing the fruits of this decision.

Last year was a weird year for Apple: It deviated from the annual June iPhone model update for the first time since 2008 and instead waited until October. The result was a whole summer of Apple earnings that were pretty good, but that were not juiced by a new iPhone release. That boost eventually came in the form of Apple’s biggest quarter ever, just three months later. But in the ensuing time between the September earnings results and the December results, Wall Street was pretty unhappy.

This year, Apple’s not messing around. By sneaking in the first few week of iPhone 5 sales right before the company closes the books on the current quarter, it will give a much-needed boost to quarterly earnings, Apple’s stock and Wall Street’s general sense of happiness with Apple. (The latter seems to be fairly important to CEO Tim Cook.) This is pretty smart because Apple will get credit for huge iPhone sales during the current quarter, but it will also very likely see another huge iPhone boost for next quarter, which is the all-important holiday quarter.

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Here’s what some Apple analysts anticipating for the quarter ending this month. All of them are prepping for what will likely be a huge quarter for the iPhone:

  • Wells Fargo analyst Maynard Um is already saying that this quarter is going to be a good one overall for Apple. In a note to investors on Monday morning following the iPhone numbers release, Um wrote, “We remain comfortable with our September quarter estimates, with an upward bias and note every 1 million in incremental iPhone sales equates to roughly $0.23 in EPS, all else equal.”
  • Cannacord Genuity analyst Michael Walkley is also betting big for this quarter’s results:  “Given the record pre-orders, we believe Apple could ship 9 million to 10 million iPhone 5 models by September 29, or the last day of [fiscal 2012], versus our initial 6 million estimate,” he told clients Monday.
  • Brian White, analyst with Topeka Capital Markets, is looking for even higher iPhone sales numbers by the end of this quarter, thanks to iPhone 5: 10 million and 12 million units. He said Monday: “Given the much stronger than expected iPhone 5 pre-orders sales, we expect a meaningful jump in the three-day sales results for the iPhone 5 compared to the over 4 million iPhone 4S weekend sales last year.”

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