Five reasons why the market’s reaction to iPhone activation numbers is silly

Apple (AAPL) stock dropped more than 6 percent during regular trading Tuesday on word that 146,000 iPhone buyers activated their devices with AT&T (T) during the 30 hours in of the quarter in which the iPhone was actually on sale. Some analysts had estimated that the number would be 500,000 or higher, and were thus disappointed.

This has to be one of the silliest causes I can imagine for a sell-off in Apple stock. Why? Here’s a list of reasons:

1. Time. The iPhone went on sale at 6 p.m. EST on June 29. That’s a Friday night, 30 hours before the end of the quarter. Some people have better things to do on a Friday night than go home and immediately activate their iPhone; they probably waited until Saturday.

2. Switchers. A good percentage of iPhone buyers – “more than 40 percent,” according to AT&T – were switching from another carrier, or were new cell phone users. Quite a few of them probably ported their phone numbers to their iPhones. The number porting process can take hours, on top of the time it takes to activate the phone.

3. EBay. The iPhone was the most pre-hyped electronics item in recent history. Some people bought it to resell it, or to gift it, with no intention of immediately activating it. Still, it’s a safe bet that those phones are finding a home.

4. Bounty. There are reports, which probably will be clarified in Apple’s earnings call, that Apple is receiving a bounty of up to $200 for every iPhone AT&T sells, plus up to $9 per month for every iPhone user. If this is true, it shows that the iPhone has the potential to drive impressive holiday-season profits for Apple.

5. Buzz. iPhone buzz remains strong, and the product has almost certainly produced a halo effect in Apple Stores that has boosted traffic. That means Apple has a little extra potential to make a positive splash with its Q2 numbers on Wednesday.

Basically, investors don’t yet have enough information to make a solid call about the iPhone. Apple’s sure to provide more details during tomorrow’s earnings chat with analysts, and the aftershocks are sure to give speculators another reason to trade the stock.

(Disclosure: As a tech and business journalist, I don’t own individual stocks in any of the industries I cover.)

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