Apple MacBook Sales Yo-Yo With the Economy

A new report from Morgan Stanley shows that as the PC market begins to stabilize and pull out of its precipitous fall, Apple’s MacBooks are leading the way as the top sellers.

Yet just a few months ago, when computer sales plummeted, Apple’s sales were tanking the worst. Just shows Apple does everything in a big way, up or down.

In February, NPD Group noted unit sales of MacBooks dropped seven percent, while Windows laptops jumped 36 percent. Without netbooks, however, Windows laptops rose 16 percent, NPD said.

Quite a bit has changed in recent months. Morgan Stanley analyst Kathryn Huberty issued a report this week showing Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) with the “most upside” among PC notebook vendors following the horrendous first quarter of 2009.

“Even before the new MacBook Pros launched,” she writes, “Apple began to outperform the broader commercial PC segment — with commercial Mac shipments up 25% [month over month] in May versus market growth of just 1%.”

As such, Huberty is raising her forecast for Mac sales in the second quarter, which just ended, to 2.5 million units, up from 2.4 million. That would represent 12 percent quarter-to-quarter growth, which is a whole lot better than the declines from the first quarter. In the first quarter of 2009, Apple’s Mac sales were 2.22 million, a three percent decline year-over-year.

PC retail sales in late Q4 2008 and the first quarter of 2009 took a nosedive, and stores stopped ordering new inventory as they slowly let existing inventories bleed out. With all of the product sold, they are slowly starting orders again to refill their supplies.

This caused sales to take a precipitous drop in 4Q 08 and 1Q 09, and Apple, which sells premium products that are much more expensive than the average PC notebook, took a harder hit for it. However, Apple has not been oblivious to the economic conditions and has twice cut MacBook prices this year, first in March, then again in June.

Dell and HP

Huberty also increased her shipment forecasts for Dell and HP in light of signs of a market recovery, but said Apple “offers the most upside especially in light of healthy retail inventory levels and recent signs of improving commercial and retail Mac sales.”

It’s still not a return to the good old days. Huberty estimates Q2 sales at just one percent quarter-over-quarter. For the year, Huberty thinks the PC market will decline only six percent compared with 2008, which is better than her prior estimate of an 11 percent drop. She thinks in 2010 growth will jump to nine percent, and revenue growth will return in 2011.

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