Despite evidence of strong Q4 iPhone sales, Apple investors nervous for earnings

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For Apple (s aapl), blockbuster holiday quarter earnings have become something of a tradition that investors can happily anticipate. But this year, with Apple’s stock holders as skittish as ever, much of CEO Tim Cook’s job on Wednesday when his company reveals its earnings report for the first fiscal quarter of 2013 is going to be convincing them that the sky is not falling and that everything’s going to be fine for the rest of the year.

The numbers released so far by some Apple watchers and Apple partners point to a really good holiday for the company. On Tuesday, Verizon(s VZ) said it sold nearly 10 million smartphones between October and the end of December, and more than half of those were iPhones. It’s a higher percentage of iPhones than usual for Verizon, so that is one indication that Apple had a great holiday, at least in the U.S. AT&T(s T) indicated earlier this month in an SEC filing that it sold a record number of smartphones during the quarter, and “most” were iPhones and Android devices.(s GOOG)

Meanwhile, a study published by Kantar Worldpanel ComTech on Tuesday echoed Verizon’s results: for the three months up to Dec. 23, 51.2 percent of the smartphones sold in the U.S. were iPhones.

In any other year this would be greeted as excellent news. Instead, Apple’s stock continues to reflect a recent lack of confidence on the part of Apple investors, mainly about the months ahead. The stock peaked at $702.10 on Sept. 19, and has dropped 28 percent since, leaving it hovering around $500. The fall seems to have been exacerbated in early January by recent reports that Apple had cut orders for iPhone parts in response to lower demand for the iPhone.

But those doubts may be mollified at least in the short term should Apple put up record sales of the iPhone, impressive sales of the new iPad mini and the original iPad, and if Cook and his CFO Peter Oppenheimer can say the right things.

We’ll be following along with the earnings call starting at 2 p.m. PT on Wednesday. But before that, here’s what to watch for once the earnings are released:

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