Looking for clues about iPhone supply? Ask AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile

How have iPhone sales have fared in the wake of production constraints on high-end models? Wall Street likely won’t get a clear answer until Apple Inc. reports earnings later this month, but some public companies may have just offered a few clues.

While users can buy new iPhones at Apple’s
stores or website, they can also get them through their wireless carriers. Apple doesn’t typically give updates on its business outside of earnings season — aside from a rare November warning about the effect of COVID-19 restrictions on the production of iPhone 14 Pro devices at a major Foxconn facility in China — but the wireless carriers tend to make more public statements.

All three major U.S. carriers sent representatives to a Citi investment conference Wednesday, and while they largely weren’t asked about iPhones specifically, they fielded questions about whether they saw inventory constraints on “high-end smartphones” during the fourth quarter.

“There was clearly some dislocation” that “probably did impact some volumes,” AT&T Inc.
Chief Financial Officer Pascal Desroches said at the conference, according to a transcript provided by Sentieo/AlphaSense. But as the quarter wore on, the “situation got better,” he continued.

Peter Osvaldik, the chief financial officer of T-Mobile US Inc.
also acknowledged some shortages during the quarter while noting improvement.

“I don’t anticipate there was a lot of spillover [into the first quarter] because a lot of that got healthy by the end of the quarter,” he said at the event.

T-Mobile shared its fourth-quarter subscriber numbers in conjunction with the conference, which one analyst called “solid.”

Verizon Communications Inc.
struck a similarly upbeat tone about how conditions ended up working out.

“There were days [with] complicated lead times, but we sorted that out,” Chief Executive Hans Vestberg said. He noted that “there is basically no spillover right now, at least for us.”

Investors could continue to look for hints about iPhone performance in commentary from the wireless giants — particularly AT&T and Verizon, which tend to report quarterly results before Apple does.

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