Apple comes off 9-month high after Verizon, AT&T iPhone 7 chatter

A customer stands at a counter inside a Verizon Wireless retail store in Washington, D.C.
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Apple's stock lost some steam on Wednesday amid mixed reports of carrier pre-order volume, but managed to hang on to a win streak, ending the day in the green.

Verizon's iPhone 7 pre-order volume is within normal range, according to a Verizon executive. But AT&T volumes are up year-over-year.

Apple's shares trimmed gains after the report, closing up about 3.5 percent at $111.77 a share. It had be seen as high as $113.03, after mobile service carriers Sprint and T-Mobile on Tuesday reporting strong pre-orders.

Shares still sealed their first three-day win streak with consecutive gains over 2 percent since April 2013, more than doubling 30-day average volume during the session.

In a webcast of the Bank of America Merrill Lynch 2016 Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference, Marni Walden, executive vice president and president of product innovation and new business at Verizon, addressed recent iPhone sales:

Moderator: "Some of the competitors in the market have been talking about 4x increases in volumes for iPhone sales. The media has assumed that this is a function of $0 trade-ins and inferring maybe that there is big market share movements or big margin implications for the industry. I wonder if you can speak maybe to, what is Verizon's iPhone experience? Has this been a game changer, or what's the story?"

Walden: "I think when people talk about percentages increase it's all about, 'Compared to what?' If you look at Verizon, we had the iPhone second, so your upgrade cycles depend a lot on that, how big your base is, so you know, we're not going to comment on volume, but I would say you've got to ask the question of what it's compared to …."

Moderator: "Would you say this is a churn and margin impact for Verizon, or is it more a business as usual upgrade cycle for the iPhone?"

Walden: "We think it's more of a business as usual for us."

Volumes of the iPhone 7 at AT&T are up year-over-year and are ahead of expectations, John Stephens, senior executive vice president and chief financial officer at AT&T, said in the conference webcast, though he noted it has only been a few days since pre-orders began.

"The reality is as one of the biggest providers of the iPhone services, our sales are up. We have seen a real improvement, exceeding our expectations," Stephens said. "Now we've got a promo out there, and you would hope the promos would be effective and they certainly are. With that we're going to make an investment in those customers but these are our best customers."

Bloomberg originally reported the conference comments. CNBC has reached out to the companies for further comment.

Apple a solid value play?

"I think it's people happy with the iPhone 7," Ben Schachter, senior analyst at Macquarie Group, told CNBC's "Power Lunch" on Wednesday. "Not too long ago, people were afraid that the iPhone had had its best days, and it was going to be a decliner in perpetuity going forward. Now people seem to be pretty comfortable that you can be flat, to maybe a little bit of growth this year, and ... heading into the ten year anniversary next year, that should be a more meaningful upgrade cycle for them."

"I think in general, you're having more and more folks from different areas looking at Apple — you have guys looking at the dividend, growth, as well as some people excited about what growth can be in the software side of the business, which we think is still under-appreciated by investors and we think could be a meaningful investment going forward," Schachter said.

It comes after Sprint announced pre-orders of the new iPhones were up more than 375 percent in the first three days compared to last year. T-Mobile, meanwhile, said iPhone pre-orders had broken previous records, up nearly 4 times compared to the next most popular iPhone, topping pre-registrations for the iPhone 6S and the popular iPhone 6.

"For a company where the concern was hey, this phone is not that different from the past two and it maybe wasn't going to excite people, following quarters where the upgrade cycles were down … this is the first true fundamental data point that might be indicative that the company can actually return to growth in the December quarter," BTIG analyst Walter Piecyk told "Closing Bell."

Industry watchers have given the new handset reviews that are solid, but not earth-shattering. Still, Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi said that the pool of existing iPhone users is about 50 percent higher than two years ago, which could raise iPhone sales to consumers in need of an upgrade, regardless of the 7's specs.

"It's tricky to know exactly how many might upgrade this year, for the 7, and how many might wait," Sacconaghi told CNBC's "Squawk Alley" on Tuesday. "Part of the issue is that Apple is now in its mature phase of the iPhone evolution. Five years ago, only about 25 percent of the people purchasing an iPhone were upgrading. Today it's about 80 percent."

Apple itself said it will not release first-weekend sales of its new iPhone 7, saying that initial sales will be "governed by supply, not demand."

"As we have expanded our distribution through carriers and resellers to hundreds of thousands of locations around the world, we are now at a point where we know before taking the first customer pre-order that we will sell out of iPhone 7," Apple spokeswoman Kristin Huguet told Reuters.

Though industry watchers are left guessing how well the phone has performed, the opening sales figures "were never a great read on demand for the phone," said Gene Munster, a senior research analyst at Piper Jaffray.

"While investors tracked these numbers ... they were influenced by adding new launch countries and the amount of inventory Apple produced and sold into carriers and retail partners," Munster wrote in a research note. "Pre-order numbers were a better indicator of demand, but Apple did not give them regularly. ... We don't view the change in policy as a sign that Apple has low expectations for the launch, but rather as a decision to get out of sharing a metric that could not grow forever."

— Reporting by CNBC's Gina Francolla, Cara Caruso and Peter Schacknow