Apple's iPhone sales in the third quarter probably won't break the bank, but they may be higher than anticipated, says Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster.
Based on the number of iPhones activated by Verizon last quarter, the analyst believes Apple's non-iPhone 5 sales were stronger than expected.
Verizon announced yesterday that it had activated 3.1 million iPhones in the third quarter, up 15 percent from the prior quarter and higher than Piper Jaffray's estimate of 2.5 million. Of those, only 651,000 were for the iPhone 5.
In an investors note out yesterday, Munster called those numbers "a positive read for Apple." Though he expects Apple's non-iPhone 5 sales to decline 35 percent from a year ago, he's pegging a drop of just 4 percent for total iPhone sales in the third quarter. As a result, the analyst is sticking with his forecast of 25 million iPhones sold last quarter.
iPhone sales estimates from other analysts show a wide gap. A poll of analysts conducted by Fortune found a range from as low as 21 million to as high as 32.3 million, leading to a median of 27 million.
This year, Apple sold 26 million iPhones in the first quarter and 35 million in the second quarter. Last year, the company sold 17 million iPhones in the third quarter and 37 million in the final quarter.
Eyeing this year's fourth quarter, Munster is looking at iPhone sales of 49 million. Since Verizon activated few iPhone 5 units last quarter, demand for the new phone is likely to rocket this quarter.
Munster does note that the iPhone 5 remains in tight supply in the U.S. based on checks at Apple retail stores as well as Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint. If supply doesn't start to catch up with demand, that 49 million estimate may prove optimistic. However, any decline in numbers for the December forecast would largely be added to the analyst's March estimate.
Apple will report its quarterly earnings on October 25.