Apple laptop sales surged 25% in June, says NPD

Lower prices, new hardware credited with sales spike in U.S.

Sales of Apple's laptops in the U.S. surged 25% in June compared to June 2008, a retail market analyst said today.

Stephen Baker, an analyst at the NPD Group, credited Apple's notebook refresh and accompanying lower prices early last month for the increase. "The Apple marketing machine is firing on all cylinders," said Baker. "With almost every launch of new machines, sales get a boost."

According to NPD, which tracks online and brick-and-mortar sales in the U.S., the 25% jump in Mac laptop sales in June represented an amazing turnaround from May, when sales were down between 3% and 5% year-to-year.

Overall June sales, including the desktop iMac and Mac Pro lines, were up 16% above a year ago, putting the second calendar quarter's sales up 5% compared to the same period in 2008.

Later today, Apple will release its sales numbers for the quarter ending June 30, when it's expected by most analysts to either match or exceed sales of the same quarter last year. In the April-June 2008 time frame, Apple sold 2.5 million Macs worldwide.

"Total sales should look pretty good later today," Baker said. He declined to speculate on a total Mac sales number, since NPD tracks U.S. sales only.

Baker gave credit to Apple's recent hardware refresh and price cuts for the sales increase. In early June, Apple dropped laptop prices between 6% and 28%, depending on the model.

Not all is rosy, however. "If there's one concern going forward for Apple, it's the drop in ASPs," Baker said, referring to "average selling price," a mark many analysts use to calculate a company's profitability. "Even though June wasn't a full month [for the new, lower-priced MacBook Pros], ASPs were down by $100," said Baker. "In May, Apple's notebook ASP was about $1,500. After [the price cuts], it was $1,400."

Because those prices will be in effect throughout all of July, Baker expects to see Apple's notebook ASP drop even further this month.

But while Apple continues to do a bang-up business on laptops, it looks like the company's desktops are beyond salvaging. "The iMacs had their one-month bump last March," said Baker, talking about the processor, memory, storage and graphics update to its consumer desktop line. "They were up then [year-over-year], but they quickly returned to the usual 30% decline."

Brian Marshall, an analyst at Broadpoint Amtech, has pegged total Mac sales at slightly over 2.2 million units. That's below the consensus of about 2.4 million Macs sold for the second calendar quarter, Apple's third quarter of its financial year. Even so, Marshall remains enthusiastic. "Despite the weak economy, Apple continues to gain share in large markets while generating tremendous amounts of cash," he said in a research note sent to clients last week.

Another analyst, Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray, is even more bullish. Based on NPD's June data and the resulting rise in MacBook Pro sales, Munster on Monday revised his estimates to peg Apple's sales at around 2.6 million units, which would put the quarter's year-to-year growth in the 4%-5% range.

The reason why analysts, particularly Wall Street's, are eagerly waiting for Apple's numbers is that the company posted a Mac sales decline for the first three months of the year, the first time in nearly six years it has reported a year-to-year drop-off. An increase for the most recent quarter could indicate that Apple's sales have turned around, even in the face of continued economic unrest.

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