Despite iMac boost, Mac sales still set to decline

Apple's new iMacs should help with totals, but Piper Jaffray seems convinced that a brutal February will lead to a decline in Mac sales compared to last year.

Apple's new iMacs will help offset a poor February, but sales are still forecast to decline. CNET

As expected, February was not a good month for Mac sales.

Piper Jaffray has analyzed a month's worth of NPD Group data on Apple's Mac sales during February, and is projecting that Apple will sell between 2 million and 2.2 million Macs during the first calendar quarter of the year, which ends in a couple of weeks. That's the same number it was working with based on January's NPD figures, and the estimates would range from a 13 percent decline to 4 percent decline compared to Mac shipments in Apple's first fiscal quarter of 2008.

Two offsetting events occurred during in February. On the bad side, Mac sales in February were down 16 percent compared to the same month last year, according to NPD. February was a brutal month for consumers as the stock market plunged, and Piper believes Apple also faced a tough comparison in that the MacBook Air began shipping last February.

On the good side, Apple's new iMacs, Mac Minis, and Mac Pros that are now shipping were not included in Piper's earlier analysis, and should help offset February's decline. Apple's desktop group was a source of weakness in an otherwise strong first fiscal quarter, and although desktops aren't strong for anybody these days the new systems appear to have been well-received by consumers.

Piper says the financial community as a whole is expecting Apple to post about 2.2 million Mac shipments in the quarter, which would be a 4 percent decline and the first quarter Mac shipments have declined year-over-year in a long time. So, in their thinking, the situation could be a lot worse: if Apple makes the Wall Street estimates the fallout could be minimal because of the overall poor health of the economy, even though Mac growth has come to a halt.

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