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iMac sales have Apple smiling

News that the iMac is the top selling consumer computer in retail helped boost Apple Computer stock for the second day in a row.

News that the iMac is the top selling consumer computer in retail helped boost Apple Computer stock for the second day in a row.

Apple's stock continued its climb today, reaching $40.375 in midday trading before falling back to 39.8125, an increase of 4.8 percent over Tuesday's close. Analysts said the boost was connected to news from PC Data that the iMac was the best selling computer in consumer outlets in November.

"I think [the upswing] is little bit overdue" and iMac sales appear to be a catalyst, said Lou Mazzuchelli, an analyst with Gerard Klauer Mattison. "A lot of people were trying to make a 'bear' case for the stock," he said, but sales results are refuting claims that the iMac isn't selling well.

The iMac will also likely give the company another boost in January. Sources have said that the company may introduce new models with a faster processor and larger hard disk drive as soon as the January 5 opening of the MacWorld trade show in San Francisco. Supporting this speculation, Best Buy has cut the price on its iMacs to $1099, as reported earlier, to clear out existing inventories.

PC Data said in a report issued earlier this week that the iMac was the top selling PC in November, representing approximately 7.1 percent of all consumer PCs sold in the month. The firm measures sales at retail and mail order outlets, but does not count sales from direct vendors such as Dell Computer and Gateway. The results also do not measure sales of business PCs.

While the PC Data study clearly shows that Apple sales are tracking up, other analysts and even PC Data cautioned against reading into the November months too deeply. For one thing, the iMac has been selling fairly well since its introduction. The question is whether the growth can be sustained in the long term, said, among others, Dataquest's Scott Miller.

Also, Apple's sales results are enhanced because companies such as Compaq Computer and Hewlett-Packard sell several models, which when combined outstrip iMac sales. For example, Apple's overall retail market share doubled since July to 10 percent, according to PC Data, but it still trails Compaq, Packard-Bell NEC, HP, and IBM, in that order.

"One of the reasons it's doing so well is it's the only [configuration] that's been in the top five for the last five months," said Stephen Baker, PC Data analyst. "Other vendors tend to rotate [systems], but Apple has had the same model in there month after month,"

The PC Data numbers are also based on sample polling of retailers. As a result, the data can be subject to change.

PC Data, for instance, stated in September that the iMac was the No. 2 selling computer in August. Subsequently, the company restated the iMac's sales and pegged it at the fourth best selling computer for that month.

The iMac has maintained a head of steam thanks to a combination of savvy marketing and loan promotions.

Mazzuchelli, who has a buy rating on the stock, is still confident that the stock will reach his 12-month target price of $55.50.