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Unlocked iPhone sales as high as 40 percent in Europe - report

Wall Street folk remain immersed this week in the hunt for Apple's missing iPhones, with one firm saying it believes that the majority of the unaccounted for units are in the hands of unlockers rather than idling in inventory.

The latest claims come by way of RBC Capital analyst Mike Abramsky, who in a research report to clients Monday said his checks with European resellers indicate unlocked units are accounting for as much as 40 percent of iPhone sales at some stores.

Slightly ahead of estimates by fellow analysts at Piper Jaffray, Abramsky also believes that unlocked iPhones comprise as much as 27 percent of US sales. Combined, he said, between 25 and 30 percent of iPhones have thus far been sold to with the intent that they'd later be operated unlocked.

The analyst noted that those estimates are consistent with the 25 - 35 percent of Pearl sales which handset maker RIM claims to sell without a dedicated data plan.

"Unlocked sales, though a headache for carriers, are positive for Apple and in our view bode well for global iPhone demand (including further international demand/uptake in countries in which Apple has not yet launched), [...] and for Apple exceeding its 10 million [unit] 18-month target," he wrote.

More generally, Amramsky used his report to speak favorably of Apple's potential to weather the ongoing economic downturn, explaining that while the Cupertino-based firm is certainly not "recession proof," it exhibits signs of being "recession resistant."

In support of this thesis, the analyst cited the "stickiness" of the company's products, the likelihood of high-end Apple consumers deferring other discretionary spending first, international growth upside, continued product innovation, and share gains.

"Even under a recession scenario we continue to expect Apple to outperform peers' growth," he said.

While iPod growth has undoubtedly slowed over the past four quarts, Amramsky maintains that the platform is still healthy with revenue growth of 17 percent and opportunities for the handhelds to undergo a transition to new form factors.

The slowdown is also offset by Mac share gains, which the analyst believes will continue in 2008. By the end of the year, he expects Apple's share of the personal computer market to rise from 3.1 percent to 3.8 percent, which would garner for the company revenues equivalent to of 50 percent of its fiscal year 2007 iPod sales.

Amramsky maintains an Outperform rating on shares of Apple.