A rumor from last month claimed that China Mobile, the largest wireless provider in the world, would begin selling Apple's iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c on Dec. 18. But rather than announcing availability of the iPhone, China Mobile instead said it's still in talks with Apple about a potential deal.
Separately, Jabil Circuit, which makes moldings and metal for Apple's iPhones, provided much weaker than expected guidance for its second quarter. That led Citigroup analyst Glen Yeung to speculate that Jabil's poor guidance could reflect negatively on Apple's forthcoming March quarter.
Apple reportedly accounts for about half of Jabil's diversified manufacturing services business, and Yeung believes a poorer-than-expected outlook could suggest iPhone sales may come in below market expectations of 42 million units for the quarter.
Wells Fargo analyst Maynard Um dismissed Wednesday's lack of a China Mobile announcement as a "non-issue."
As for the lack of a China Mobile announcement, analyst Maynard Um with Wells Fargo downplayed its significance.
"While the missing announcement may be perceived negatively, we see this as a non-issue and believe this is more of an issue of timing and ultimately expect an agreement to be reached," he said in a note to investors Wednesday morning.
Market watchers are particularly interested in a potential deal with China Mobile, as the wireless provider boasts some 759 million subscribers, making it the largest carrier in the world. This week, China Mobile is launching its 4G TD-LTe high-speed network, and Apple's recently released iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c are both compatible.
Investors have been hotly anticipating a China Mobile deal for Apple for years, though speculation has increased significantly in recent weeks. That's led to a number of erroneous reports, misinformation, and false starts -- including the rumored Dec. 18 launch, which was promoted by mainstream publications such as The Wall Street Journal.
Wall Street analysts generally believe a deal with China Mobile would add about 17 million additional iPhone unit sales for Apple in the first year. That would represent a relatively conservative 10 percent penetration rate of the carrier's current 3G subscriber base of around 170 million customers.