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Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster has weighed in on the much discussed missing iPhones issue, and has a different take than Bernstein’s Toni Sacconaghi.

To review: At MacWorld on January 15, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs announced that had sold 4 million iPhones to date. Then Thursday, in a post-earnings conference call, AT&T (NYSE:T) CFO Rick Linder said Ma Bell had registered about 2 million iPhones through December 31 (see full transcript). That raised an obvious question: what happened to the other 2 million iPhones?

Sacconaghi yesterday went to work puzzling it out. He noted that there were 3.7 million iPhones sold through December 31, leaving 1.7 million not registered through AT&T. He estimated 350,000 have been sold in Europe, dropping the unregistered total to around 1.35 million. He estimated that about 20% of the rest had been “unlocked” and were being used on other networks, with the rest in inventory with AT&T and the company’s European distribution partners. He calculated there were somewhere between 150-200 phones in inventory for every non-Apple retailer. And he concluded that the data suggests iPhone sales are not as robust as Apple’s sales data implies, and that March sales could disappoint as the market soaks up the current inventory.

OK. Now Munster’s take. He likewise uses 350,000 as the number sold in Europe. But he assumes that 25% of U.S. phones sold have been unlocked. That would be 838,000 phones. That leaves 2.5125 million phones eligible for activation. Back out the 2 million we know are activated, and you get inventory of 512,500 phones. Munster contends normal channel inventory for the phone is five weeks. If that is true here, it would imply sales of about 100,000 phones a week. Which would suggest annual sales of 5.3 million. Apple has said it will sell 10 million iPhones in 2008. Ergo, Munster’s logic would imply no excess inventory.

Hard to know who is right about the number of unlocked phones versus the number of phones in inventory. High numbers of phones in inventory would suggest the issues Sacconaghi raises. Very high numbers of phones sold and then unlocked suggests a different problem: lower back-end revenue for Apple. The company gets considerable revenue from AT&T on the back end. Munster himself has previously estimated that Apple gets $18 a month for every iPhone user that signs up. That comes to $432 over the course of the required two-year contract. If you use Munster’s figure of 838,000 phones sold but unlocked, and multiply by $432, that is $362 million in lost revenue.

Apple on Friday fell $5.59, or 4.1%, to $130.01. The stock fell 19% for the four-day week, and is now down 34% since the end of 2007.

Source: Uncovering Apple's Missing 2M iPhones