Apple’s iPhone 5 could provide boost to U.S. economy

The conventional wisdom holds that we shouldn’t expect too many tech miracles from the iPhone 5. The latest iteration of Apple’s popular smartphone will mainly just be an incremental upgrade over previous versions. Ho-hum.

But what about an economic miracle? In an eyebrow-raising new research note, JPMorgan Chase’s Michael Feroli estimates that iPhone 5 sales could boost U.S. economic growth in the fourth quarter by up to 0.5 percent. That could mean the difference between a disappointing rate of economic growth and a half-decent one.

Feroli’s calculations are fairly straightforward: He figures that the new iPhone 5 will sell for $600 per unit. If each phone contains about $200 in imported parts, then each iPhone sale adds about $400 to GDP. (Imports get subtracted from GDP calculations.) If Apple manages to sell 8 million iPhones, then that’s a $3.2 billion boost to the economy right there, increasing growth by a 0.33 percent annualized pace. If the government statisticians add in a hedonic adjustment to account for the fact that new iPhones are superior to the old ones, that could boost GDP numbers even further.

Is that unreasonable? Could the iPhone really prop up the U.S. economy single-handedly? “This estimate seems fairly large,” Feroli concedes, “and for that reason should be treated skeptically.” On the other hand, he points out that sales of the iPhone 4S appeared to have boosted growth in the fourth quarter of 2011 by up to 0.2 percent. And this release is set to be even crazier.

If the iPhone 5 does boost fourth-quarter growth by 0.5 percent, that would be quite significant. Right now, most economic forecasters expect that the U.S. economy will expand between an anemic 1.5 percent pace and a so-so 2 percent pace in the fourth quarter of 2012. But when you add in the iPhone factor, Feroli notes, that “would limit the downside risk to our Q4 GDP growth projection.”

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Excerpted from washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog

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