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Tuesday, January 17, 2012, 05:08 am PT (08:08 am ET)

NPD data suggests 'soft' sales of 4.9M Macs in December quarter

The latest U.S. sales data from the NPD Group suggests Apple sold around 4.9 million Macs last quarter, a number that will likely be seen as a mild disappointment on Wall Street.

Analyst Gene Munster with Piper Jaffray revealed in a note to investors on Tuesday that domestic NPD retail data for all three months of the December quarter shows U.S. Mac sales up 12 percent year over year. The data has prompted him to lower his forecasted Mac sales for the holiday quarter by 300,000 units to 4.9 million.

Munster's latest projection calls for Apple to see growth of 18 percent year over year. At 6 percent higher than NPD's data, the projection matches the differential of the September quarter, when actual growth was 26 percent and NPD's domestic data saw a 20 percent increase.

"Soft" Mac sales in the December quarter could be a result of tough comparisons from 2010. It was in October of that year that Apple launched its redesigned MacBook Air lineup.

Even if Mac sales do disappoint, Munster isn't worried. In fact, he raised his iPhone estimates by 600,000 units, to 30.6 million — a number which will fully offset any reduced Mac revenue. In addition, Munster does not believe NPD's data suggests anything about Apple's iPad or iPhone sales in the December quarter.

Munster has been closely following NPD's monthly data for the quarter. Last month, he revealed that quarterly Mac sales in the U.S. were up 13 percent over the first two months of the quarter. The analyst had initially projected that Mac sales would spike in month of December.

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The latest data suggests Apple is on pace to match its previous best for Mac sales in a three-month span. The company's current record came in the September quarter when it achieved sales of 4.89 million Macs.,

The full NPD data for the quarter also shows iPod sales down 16 percent, suggesting the final tally will be ahead of the market's consensus of 15.5 million units. Munster now believes iPod sales will be closer to 16 million for the quarter.