Apple 2.0

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How many Verizon iPhones will Apple sell next year?

December 9, 2010: 12:59 PM ET

Analysts are baking the new carrier into their 2011 estimates, but low-balling sales

On Wednesday, Stifel Nicolaus' Doug Reid raised his Apple (AAPL) target price to $390 per share (from $360) based in part on his "increased confidence" of a Verizon (VZ) launch in early 2011 (mid-February is his best guess).

On Thursday, Merrill Lynch's Scott Craig did the same, raising his target to $420 (from $415) for similar reasons. "We expect a Verizon iPhone to be introduced in early C2011," he wrote, "and we are now baking Verizon into our estimates."

So how many Verizon iPhones are they baking in? Surprisingly few.

"We expect a base case of at least 10 million units at Verizon for [calendar] 2011," writes Craig, "although we only added 6 and 8 million units to 2011 and 2012, respectively."

Reid is even more conservative. He's only raising his 2011 iPhone sales estimates to 63.3 million from 62.5 million, or 800,000 units.

That's it? 800,000 measly iPhones?

For reasons known only to themselves, analysts who have been breathlessly anticipating a Verizon iPhone are now busy lowering expectations.

In June, Barclays Capital's James Ratcliffe predicted that Verizon would sell 9 million iPhones next year. Last month, analysts at BMO Capital Markets were talking about 8 million.

"Historically," writes Merrill's Craig, "when the iPhone has been added to a second carrier in a country (France, Norway, Canada, UK, etc), iPhone shipments increased nearly 1:1 with subscriber base, indicating minimal/no share loss at the incumbent carrier. We are more conservative in our estimates, given the more recent increased competition from Android devices and some likely cannibalization at AT&T." (T)

Even so.

"I don't see why the number can't be about the same as what AT&T was getting," says Asymco's Horace Dediu. "Why analysts low-ball is beyond me."

[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]

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Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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