Kaufman Bros. analyst Shaw Wu has been checking with his contacts in Apple’s (AAPL) supply and distribution channels and reports that demand for the iPhone is “fairly healthy” in the U.S., Europe and, with the exception of Japan, most of Asia Pacific. He’s anticipating sales of 6 million units for the December quarter (Apple’s fiscal 2009 Q1), down from 6.9 million in Q4 but in line with the Street’s expectations of between 5 and 7 million.
But that significantly understates actual demand for the iPhone, Wu says, because it doesn’t include the wild card in this holiday season’s iPhone sales: the iPhone gift card.
The good news about these gift cards is that Apple gets to collect the revenue up front, which improves cash flow. The bad news for Apple’s Q1 earnings is that it can’t recognize the sale of an iPhone until the customer activates it. “The risk here is that the customer will likely activate post-Christmas,” writes Wu. “Therefore revenue and units won’t likely be recognized until the March quarter.”
In a separate note issued Tuesday, Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster took a stab at estimating how many iPhones Wal-Mart (WMT) is likely to sell when it, as reported, begins carrying the devices three days after Christmas. Bottom line: Apple could sell as many iPhones through Wal-Mart in 2009 as it sells through its own Apple Stores. Munster’s math:
UPDATE: Morgan Stanley’s Kathryn Huberty, an analyst with a dismal record of predicting iPhone sales (see here), cut her Q1 estimate Wednesday to 4 million iPhones, down from 4.5 million (link). Her sales estimate for calendar 2009 of 14 million iPhones represents the bearish low end among Apple analysts. Munster’s 45 million units is the bullish high.