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Mac sales should recover after December drop, analyst says

Shipments of the Mac plummeted 22 percent in December, but Needham analyst Charlie Wolf expects sales to recover this month.

Apple's iMac lineup.
Apple's iMac lineup. Apple

Sales of Apple's Mac should bounce back this month following a dismal December, according to Needham analyst Charlie Wolf.

For 26 quarters in a row, Mac shipments grew faster than those of PCs. But that record came to an end in December when Mac shipments fell by 22 percent compared with an overall industry drop of just 6.6 percent.

Wolf said in an investors note released today:

What we can only describe as astonishing, given that Mac shipments fell below PC shipment growth in all geographic regions and segments in December, is that there was absolutely not one iota of positive news in the Mac shipment numbers.

Why the freefall? Wolf pointed to a few reasons.

First, the iMac continued to be in short supply due to production constraints. Customers' wait time for shipments of the 27-inch iMac quickly rose and continued to rise following its debut in November. A month before, Apple CEO Tim Cook had warned that supplies of the iMac would be "constrained" the rest of 2012, leading to a "signficant shortage."

"Since we estimated that Apple could conceivably have sold up to a million desktop Macs in December, the entire shortfall could be explained by the unavailability of desktop Macs," Wolf said.

Competition from Apple's own iPad may have also contributed to the Mac's sales drop. For the final quarter of 2012, iPad shipments jumped 47 percent to 22.9 million. A certain number of Apple shoppers who wanted a Mac but couldn't find one may have picked up an iPad or iPad Mini instead.

Finally, Apple slashed the price of the Retina MacBook Pro by $200. Wolf sees that as a sign that Apple overvalued the appeal of the Retina Display model.

And now?

The analyst expects Mac sales to start to revive this month. iMac buyers still face a long wait time -- three to four weeks for the 27-inch edition and two to three weeks for the 21.5-inch model. But supply constraints have eased up since last year.

The question is whether Mac shipments can once again outpace the growth of PC shipments. The answer depends on how well both segments fare.

Noting that the iPad cut into PC sales as well, Wolf said it's possible the iMac could outperform the PC market this month if PC sales for the current quarter are down from the same quarter last year.