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Apple sells 2.6M Macs, ponders uncertain future

Sets new sales record for second quarter running, but Jobs acknowledges downturn clouds picture

October 22, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - As CEO Steve Jobs acknowledged that the gloomy economic picture may affect sales at Apple Inc. in the future, the company announced yesterday that it had sold more than 2.6 million Macs in its fourth fiscal quarter, setting a single-quarter record for the second straight period.

"Some remarkable things are happening at Apple, but everything is now set against this global economic slowdown," said Jobs, who rarely joins other executives on the quarterly earnings calls with Wall Street analysts.

Apple sold 936,000 desktops and 1.68 million notebooks in the quarter, which ended Sept. 30, increases of 15% and 24%, respectively, over the same quarter last year.

Overall Mac sales were up 21% year-to-year, while total revenues from Mac computer sales, which totaled $3.62 billion for the quarter, were 17% over the same period last year, and accounted for 46% of Apple's total revenues of $7.9 billion for the quarter.

"Even with the softness in the market, they had a spectacular quarter," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst at Technology Business Research Inc. However, the numbers, while impressive, were not up to recent performances. "Mac unit sales were up 21% year-to-year, a number most companies would be proud of, but it was the smallest growth Apple has posted since [the second fiscal quarter] of 2006, when the company transitioned to the Intel platform," he noted.

The slip in revenue growth for the Mac -- at $3.62 billion it was 17% above the same quarter last year -- was due, Gottheil said, to two things: The annual back-to-school promotion, which offered rebates of up to $299 to buyers who purchased an iPod with a new Mac, and second, consumer caution. "Even Mac consumers were more cautious in the quarter," Gottheil said.

Peering into the future, Jobs and other company executives said they're not sure how the economic climate will affect sales of its Macs going forward. "We're not economists," said Jobs at one point during the call. "Your next-door neighbor can likely predict what is going to happen as accurately as we can."

A slowdown in sales during the last weeks of September and the first weeks of October, in fact, may be a clue, said Tim Cook, Apple's chief operating officer, although he also attributed the fall-off to customers postponing purchases in anticipation of revamped machines.

"There were rampant rumors and lots of press reports about a potential portable transition, and we saw some slowing toward particularly the final weeks of September and the initial weeks of October," said Cook. He maintained that once the new laptops hit stores, sales rebounded.

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