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iPhone sales will be flat this quarter, predicts analyst

Apple might sell only 37.5 million iPhones during the current quarter, the same number sold a year ago, says analyst Gene Munster.

Apple's iPhone 5S.
Apple's iPhone 5S.
Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Apple's "disappointing" iPhone sales growth could continue this quarter and over the foreseeable future.

Yesterday Apple reported sales of 51 million iPhones for the December quarter. Though that number hit a record, Wall Street analysts had anticipated 55 million in sales, triggering renewed questions about the company's future iPhone growth.

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster now predicts Apple will sell around 37.5 million iPhones this quarter, down from his prior forecast of 42 million. In the year-ago quarter, Apple sold 37.4 million iPhones, which would mean little or no growth for the current quarter if Munster's number comes true.

The analyst also anticipates slower iPhone growth rates for 2014 and 2015, lowering his estimates for both years by 7 percent. Why the dour outlook?

In an investors note published late Monday, Munster said he believes a number of factors influenced iPhone sales last quarter and will do so again this quarter. Among them is a decline in US smartphone sales growth. The analyst sees a saturated US smartphone market where the majority of sales come from upgrades rather than new purchases.

And even if iPhone customers held off on upgrades last quarter, those upgrades should start to ring in this year. But the March quarter forecast shows little signs of growth.

Apple is also being roughed up in markets where consumers are opting for budget-conscious Android phones and other low-cost alternatives. A Kantar Worldpanel ComTech report released Monday showed a decline in Apple's mobile market share around the world last quarter.

Investors and Apple watchers wonder if the company will ever produce a truly low-cost iPhone, but Munster doesn't see that on his radar.

"We believe the miss on Dec-13 iPhone units and beat on iPhone ASP (average selling price) will also fuel debate around optimal pricing strategies for Apple and the trade-off between unit and revenue growth versus margin," Munster said. "We believe Apple has made its stance on the lower-end clear and expect the current focus on creating premium products at a premium price point to remain."