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Tuesday, July 24, 2007, 08:05 am PT (11:05 am ET)

AT&T: 146,000 Apple iPhones activated in first two days

Shares of electronics maker Apple Inc. bled nearly 4 percent of their value in early morning trading Tuesday after AT&T said it activated just shy of 150,000 iPhones during the handset's first two days on the market — significantly below some expectations on the Street.

Speaking to analysts and members of the media, AT&T said Tuesday that second-quarter earnings rose 61 percent, helped by its buyout of BellSouth Corp. and, to a lesser extent, gains in wireless subscribers and revenue.

The nation's largest wireless carrier and exclusive Apple iPhone provider said that net income rose to $2.9 billion, or 47 cents per share, from $1.81 billion, or 46 cents per share in the prior year's quarter. Subscribers rose by 1.5 million to 63.7 million during the quarter, the firm said.

AT&T attributed a portion of its subscriber growth to the introduction of iPhone, which went on sale less than two days before the end of its second fiscal quarter. In that brief time, however, the carrier said it activated over 146,000 of the Apple handsets, more than 40 percent of which went to new AT&T subscribers.

Still, those numbers proved less appetizing for some on Wall Street, where first-weekend iPhone sales estimates had ranged as high as, and in some cases north of, 500,000 units. Weary-minded investors quickly dumped shares of the iPhone maker, sending the stock down by as much as 4 percent (or nearly $6) in early morning trading to $138.05.

Still, AT&T's early activation numbers could prove to be slightly misleading, as they represent the total number of the Apple handsets that were activated in the first 36 hours or so, and not necessarily the total number of units sold to customers during that time. A significant number of early iPhone adopters were seen buying their limit of two handsets at Apple retail stores during the handset's opening weekend, the second of which may have been activated by recipients after the close of AT&T's second fiscal quarter.

More telling first-weekend iPhone figures are expected as part of Apple's third fiscal quarter earnings report on Wednesday, where the Cupertino-based firm will report on the total number of iPhones sold during its first two days rather than just those units that had been activated.