Apple 2.0

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iPod sales headed for their first decline - analyst

May 18, 2009: 2:27 PM ET

iPod lineupPiper Jaffray's Gene Munster puts a positive spin on it, but his analysis of retail data issued Monday afternoon by the NPD Group suggests that the Mac, whose sales declined year-over-year last fiscal quarter for the first time in nearly six years, will be joined next quarter by the iPod.

In a note to clients, Munster reports that NPD shows Mac unit sales down 1.8% between March and April and iPod sales down 9% in the same period. Average selling prices were flat for the Mac and down 11% for the iPod product line.

Based on this data and his estimates of online and overseas sales, Munster now projects that Apple will sell between 2.1 million and 2.3 million Macs in its fiscal Q3, which ends in June, and between 9.5 million and 10.5 million iPods.

That's down from the 11 million iPods Apple sold in the same period last year and represents the first year-over-year decline in iPod unit sales since Apple (AAPL) launched its hot-selling music player in Oct. 2001.

But as Munster notes, both sales estimates are in line with the Street's expectations, and the April numbers for Macs in particular are better than he expected, given the dismal economic climate.

"We see this as a positive data point," he writes, "given the uncertainty surrounding continued strength following the new desktops launched in March."

The NPD Group gathers proprietary retail data every month on a variety of products and sells the information to clients, including Piper Jaffray.

Among the analysts who track Apple, Munster has proved particularly skilled at making sales projections based on their data. He argues that NPD is a strong leading indicator, and supports that contention with a chart comparing NPD's Mac estimates with actual sales:

NPD Mac data v. actual sales

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Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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