Apple, Inc. And The Great China Mobile Debate: How Many iPhones?

Although Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) hasn’t firmly cemented the final terms with China Mobile, the carrier is taking preorders for the iPhone 5S and 5C. Meanwhile analysts continue to speculate about just how many iPhones Apple will be able to sell on China Mobile Ltd. (NYSE:CHL) (HKG:941)’s network. Those numbers range quite wildly, with Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty’s estimates coming in at the bottom of the pack.

Apple to sell 12 million iPhones

Huberty’s base case for Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s sales on the world’s largest carrier is 12 million iPhones. That’s compared to previous estimates from other analysts ranging from 15 million up to a whopping 25 million.

Seth Klarman: Investors Can No Longer Rely On Mean Reversion

Volatility"For most of the last century," Seth Klarman noted in his second-quarter letter to Baupost's investors, "a reasonable approach to assessing a company's future prospects was to expect mean reversion." He went on to explain that fluctuations in business performance were largely cyclical, and investors could profit from this buying low and selling high. Also Read More

The analyst based her estimate on a survey of consumers in China’s large and medium cities. To come up with 12 million, she is assuming that Apple will find an addressable market of approximately 195 million on China Mobile’s network. Huberty specified that the addressable market according to her estimates includes only those who said they would be willing to spend at least $825 on a smartphone and who said they were “very likely” to purchase an iPhone from China Mobile Ltd. (NYSE:CHL) (HKG:941). She did not include responses which were “somewhat likely.”

Other estimates for Apple

Even Huberty’s bullish case isn’t as high as the top end of analyst estimates for iPhones on China Mobile’s network. That estimate is 23 million, assuming a bigger addressable market of 279 million consumers, which includes those who said that weren’t really planning to buy a smartphone over the next year. Her bear case is just 5 million iPhones and assumes an addressable market of just 121 million without including customers who might change their mind.

The analyst continues to rate Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) as Overweight with a $630 per share price target. If her base case of 12 million iPhones on the China Mobile network is correct, she estimates that Apple could see a $2.30 per share boost in earnings.