Apple’s iPhone 5 as loss leader by Philip Elmer-DeWitt @FortuneMagazine December 19, 2012, 1:07 PM EST E-mail Tweet Facebook Google Plus Linkedin Share icons Overstock Auction ad FORTUNE — If you follow Apple AAPL news half as obsessively as I do, you’ve no doubt heard that Walmart WMT and now Fry’s Electronics are selling the iPhone 5 at steep discounts — $127 and $126, respectively. I’ve seen a lot of headlines, and even some commentary to the effect that the discounting shows that the “niche premium magic” of the “once uber-cool gizmo” is gone, not to mention Apple’s enviable profit margins. The thing is, I’ve haven’t heard of anyone who managed to buy a dscounted iPhone 5 at Walmart or Fry’s. I’m sure the big chain stores must have had at least a few in stock. Unlike outfits such as Overstock Auction (see promo at right), they’re not entirely bait-and-switch shops. But I’m pretty sure they’re selling them at a loss, and I suspect that whatever limited supplies Apple consigned to them ran out quickly. AllThingsD‘s Tricia Duryee spent a couple hours Friday calling Walmart Supercenters in the Bay Area trying to locate a $127 iPhone 5, with no success. She had better luck than I did. I couldn’t get any of the Walmart electronics departments in the New York City metro area to answer the phone. If you’ve managed to buy an iPhone 5 at Fry’s or Walmarts, tell us about it in the comment stream.