Expect Apple to report huge iPhone sales

Pent-up demand, addition of Sprint as carrier, will boost Q1 sales figures

Don't expect a repeat of last quarter when Apple reports its fiscal Q1 earnings after the market closes on Tuesday.

Shares of Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) dropped 5.6% last October 19, the day after the company reported fiscal 2011 fourth-quarter results that showed a 54% increase in net income, but iPhone sales of "only" 17.07 million units, missing average estimates of 20 million units.

The miss was easily explainable -- consumers were waiting for the next iPhone (which many thought would be the iPhone 5, but turned out instead to be the iPhone 4S), which didn't come out until mid-October. So in the quarter ended last September 24, many aspiring iPhone owners were holding off.

Not so in Q1. Apple reported record first-weekend sales (4 million units) of the iPhone 4S, and analyst estimates for the launch quarter range from 25 million to 30 million units. That's versus 16.24 million units in the first quarter of fiscal 2011.

In addition to benefiting from pent-up demand, iPhone sales were boosted by Sprint in mid-October beginning to sell the Apple smartphone for the first time, joining AT&T and Verizon as U.S. distributors.

Apple also is expected to report healthy sales of its iPad tablet, which still lacks a viable challenger in the $500 range, though Amazon's $199 Kindle Fire is grabbing some market share by appealing to thriftier customers.

Average analyst estimates call for Q1 net income of $10.04 on revenue of $38.92 billion, well above Apple's typically conservative guidance of $9.30 a share on $37 billion in revenue.

By mid-afternoon Monday, Apple's stock was trading up 6.35, or 1.5%, to 426.65. Shares hit an all-time high of 431.37 last Thursday.

If Apple beats (or even meets) expectations for Q1, particularly iPhone sales, a new all-time high should soon follow. To investors who bought on mid-October's dip to 390.75, good work.

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