Apple's Mac sales for the first month of the year could indicate that the economy is finally catching up with the company.
Piper Jaffray, known as one of the most Apple-positive analyst firms in the financial industry, released a report Tuesday indicating that based on a month's worth of data from NPD Group, Mac sales are on a pace to decline on a year-over-year basis for the first time in six years. Piper is projecting that Apple will sell between 2 million and 2.2 million Macs during the quarter, compared to 2.3 million Macs sold in Apple's second fiscal quarter of 2008.
Piper tried to paint the development as a good thing for Apple in that the projected numbers would match the consensus expectations of the financial community for Mac sales this quarter. And the firm also noted that one month of data isn't enough to make definitive conclusions, even though it concluded the data merited a report.
"We believe this data will be perceived as a neutral or a slight positive given the uncertainty surrounding the Mar-08 quarter," Gene Munster wrote in the report. He also noted that this quarter would make for a tough comparison given that Apple launched the MacBook Air in the first calendar quarter of 2008, but that assumes that Apple sold enough MacBook Airs to disproportionately boost its results that quarter.
Despite that analysis, the numbers indicate that Apple is finally running into the economic headwinds that it deftly avoided last quarter, especially when coupled with NPD's iPod data that projects a 6 percent to 15 percent decline in iPod sales year-over-year during the current quarter. Disappointing earnings and uncertainty over the federal stimulus plan pushed stocks to a seven-year-low Tuesday, which may have potential customers thinking more about their dwindling 401ks than new MacBooks.
One thing that could boost Apple's quarter would be new iMacs and/or Mac Minis, which have been expected for some time and which were not included in Piper's analysis of the quarter. Desktop Mac sales were down significantly during the holiday quarter, and new products could provide incentive for some potential customers who were otherwise planning to sit out the quarter.