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Solving Apple's (AAPL) Q1 iPhone Sales Estimates Riddle With Google Trends

 January 04, 2013 03:04 PM

(By Rich Bieglmeier) According to a Reuters' article, Strategy Analytics reported that Samsung Electronics' Galaxy smartphone will expand its lead over the Apple's (AAPL) iPhone, by a little bit anyway. Strategy predicts, "Global smartphone shipments will jump 27 percent to 875 million this year," which is down from 2012 hot pace of 41%.

The research company forecasts Samsung Electronics will "sell 290 million smartphones this year, up from a projected 215 million in 2012," and added, "Apple's smartphone sales are projected to reach 180 million this year, up 33 percent from last year, slightly trailing Samsung's 35 percent increase. This will give Samsung a 33 percent share of the 2013 smartphone market, up from last year's estimated 31 percent, while Apple will hold 21 percent, versus last year's 20 percent."

[Related -Fusion-IO, Inc. (FIO): Can Fusion-IO Q2 Results Cheer Street?]

Despite the robust outlook for 2013, many analysts are worried about iPhone sales for 2013's 1st quarter and full year. A bunch of Wall Street's gurus recently reduced outlooks for iPhone sales for the holiday quarter and year ahead.  

Citigroup analyst Kevin Chang lowered his outlook and expects iPhone shipments of 45 million in the October-December period. Analyst Christopher Caso follows APPL at Susquehanna Financial Group says his checks show that iPhone5 sales in late 2012 mirror iPhone4 sales in the previous year and doesn't "see any way that AAPL can meet consensus sell-through numbers in the near term."

[Related -Google Inc (GOOG): Why Nest Labs Deal Is A Wakeup Call For Apple Inc.?]

However, there are bulls. Rob Cihra of Evercore Partners is bullish and says Apple will have a record quarter of sales, clocking in at 50 million smartphones. Alex Salomon at seeitmarket.com has cobbled sales figures around the globe together and puts the target at 51.8 million for the holiday quarter. Jefferies' Peter MisakBoth claims, "Our carrier checks indicate total iPhone demand sell-through is tracking above 50M units." All are ahead of the consensus of roughly 47.5 million units in the quarter.

Let's see if Google Trends can help us solve the Q1 riddle.

iStock compared worldwide search volume intensity for the keyword iPhone for October through December for 2011 and 2012. We can use 2012 Q1 smartphone sales and the change in year-over-year search volume to guesstimate iPhone sales for Q1 2013.

On January 24, 2012, Apple announced, "the Company sold 37.04 million iPhones in the [2012's first] quarter." And if Google Trends are correct, iStock would anticipate that iPhone sales for 2013's first quarter will rival 2012, falling short of the consensus of 47.5 million units.

Trends for 2011 and 2012 are mirror images, intertwining like a strand of rope. The two years are nearly identical. See for yourself:

iPhone - Google Trends 2012 vs 2011

(click to enlarge)

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