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Apple's Earnings: Good to The iPhone Core

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Apple (AAPL - Get Report) is set to report third-quarter earnings after the close, with all eyes on the iPhone, the "core" of the tech giant's revenue.

Wall Street expects a strong report from the iPhone maker. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expect Apple to generate earnings of $10.36 per share on $37.18 billion in revenue. Analysts surveyed by Estimize expect profit of $11.46 a share and $39.26 billion in sales.

The iPhone is expected to garner most of the attention, given Apple's pending transition from older models to the new model, reportedly due out in September or October. The iPhone accounted for more than half of Apple's $46.33 billion revenue last quarter, as it sold 37.04 million iPhones.

This is also the first quarter Apple will pay a dividend for the first time since 1995. In March, Apple announced it would pay a quarterly dividend of $2.65 per share, and buyback $10 billion worth of stock. The buyback program will start in fiscal 2013, which commences on Sept. 30, 2012.

With the new iPhone in the spotlight, some analysts have concerns that sales of the device could be weak.

Sanford Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi says there's a "reasonable probability of a miss" for several reasons, including weakness in China and Europe, the lull in iPhone sales, and late introductions of the iPad in China and a Mac refresh.

The analyst expects 28.5 million iPhones sold this quarter, down from his prior estimate of 29.9 million.

"Despite the possibility of sluggish performance in the near term, we remind investors that Apple is a very difficult stock to time, and that the stock's outperformance over the last 2 years has been concentrated in short time periods...Moreover, once visibility into the timing of the iPhone 5 launch becomes apparent, we believe that investor sentiment will become meaningfully positive," Sacconaghi wrote in a note to clients.

He rates Apple "outperform" with a price target of $750.

Other analysts take note from the recent report from Verizon (VZ), which activated 2.7 million iPhones in the quarter, and see that as a good sign. Jeffries analyst Peter Misek expected Verizon to activate 2.5 million iPhones, so this is another positive sign, despite increased interest on a new product. He rates Apple shares "buy" with an $800 price target.

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster agrees that the Verizon activation number is a positive going into the quarter and notes that data out of China appears exceptionally strong.

"Additionally, based on data reported from China Telecom and China Unicom, 3G subscriber adds in China appear strong, which is good for the iPhone," Munster wrote, in his report. "We are assuming that iPhone sales in Asia-Pac (driven by China) are up 43% sequentially, while rest of world is down 24% sequentially."

The analyst believes Apple sold around 10 million iPhones in Asia during the quarter, with overall sales coming in between 28 million and 29 million. He rates shares "overweight" with a $910 price target.

AT&T (T) also had strong iPhone activation numbers during its second quarter.

Strong earnings reports from Apple suppliers such as Qualcomm (QCOM - Get Report) and Skyworks Solutions (SWKS - Get Report) may also allay fears of a slowdown in sales.

AAPL Chart AAPL data by YCharts

Interested in more on Apple? See TheStreet Ratings' report card for this stock.

Check out our new tech blog, Tech Trends. Follow TheStreet Tech on your wireless devices.

-- Written by Chris Ciaccia in New York

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