Here's an intriguing report from ImportGenius, a search engine that gathers "competitive intelligence" by monitoring U.S. Customs records of ocean containers entering American ports.
Searching for shipments to Apple, Inc. (AAPL), employees at the Scottsdale, Ariz., company reported on Friday that they've spotted a "major spike" since mid March in ocean containers marked with a mysterious new label: "electric computers."
“They have never before reported this product on their customs declarations,” says ImportGenius managing director Ryan Peterson, who notes that there has been no corresponding falloff during this period of shipments labeled "desktop computers" or any of the other labels Apple usually uses.
"The fact that they are importing millions of units, combined with dwindling stocks of the first generation of iPhones," persuades Peterson that these "electric computers" are, in fact, the 3G iPhones Apple is expected to release in a matter of weeks.
He makes a strong case, citing records of a total of 188 ocean containers shipped to Apple from two trusted Asian suppliers, Hon Hai Precision Corp. and Quanta Computer.
For example, on March 19 Apple took delivery from Quanta of 20 containers of merchandise, described on the Bills of Lading as “electric computers."
"The initial shipments were followed," according to ImportGenius.com, "on March 27, April 28, May 6 and May 17 with an additional 44 containers—each containing an estimated 40,000 units of the new phone. The sixteen containers imported by Apple Inc. itself—as opposed to the Quanta subsidiary—were delivered on March 19 and 27 to the Jonestown, Pa. facilities of Ingram Micro, Apple’s U.S. distribution partner."You can read the rest of the report here. It's quite impressive in its specificity. It notes, for example, that "Bill of Lading # HLCUSHA0803FTFR8, arrived at the port of New York on the Vessel NYK Delphinus on May 17th." That shipment contained 504 cartons, weighing 7140 kg, of the vaguely described “electric computer."
"Knowledge is power," declares ImportGenius' promotional material. "Whether you are looking to keep tabs on your competitors with Supply Spy, identify suppliers with ImportScan our easy to use online software makes it easy. You get access to records on nearly every container that entered the United States from 2006 to the present."
[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]