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Tuesday, March 20, 2007, 07:00 am PT (10:00 am ET)

Apple's second quarter Mac sales may beat estimates

With just two weeks left in Apple Inc.'s fiscal second quarter, a survey of specialist retailers indicate that Mac unit shipments may fall only slightly from the company's breakout December quarter.

Analysts at research and investment firm PiperJaffray recently spoke with twenty of Apple's premier resellers and found that 85 percent of those resellers expect Mac sales will decline only slightly from the company's breakout December quarter. Those resellers described a "slight decline" as an approximate 5 to 10 percent drop-off.

Meanwhile, the remaining 15 percent said they see sales coming in flat, or on par with the holiday quarter.

"Usually the month of February is dead for Macs, but this year we have not had a measurable slowdown from the holiday (Dec) quarter," one Apple Specialist told the firm. Another commented that they "have seen higher than predicted demand for Macs in the March quarter" and are expecting sales "to be above" their original internal estimates.

Gene Munster, a senior analyst with PiperJaffray, was pleased by the response from the resellers. He believes the resellers' comments indicate that Apple is likely to prove Street Mac estimates to be conservative for the March quarter.

"The MacBook is leading the way this quarter," the analyst told clients in a research note. "65 percent of resellers said MacBooks are selling better than other Macs."

As part of the survey, Apple Specialist resellers were also asked to comment on Apple's upcoming Leopard operating system overhaul and weigh any effect on current sales. Just over half of the resellers said they have witnessed some Leopard-related purchase delays that have had a slight negative impact on Macs, while the remainder said anticipation of the upcoming release is not having an impact on sales of Macs.

"Some of our higher end customers are waiting to buy a Mac until Leopard comes out, many are also waiting for [Adobe] Creative Suite 3.0," one reseller said.

The resellers polled by PiperJaffray also have high hopes for Apple TV, but believe the device will need to be more fully understood by consumers before it turns into a major contributor to their business.

"Almost all (95 percent) resellers in our sample said they expect AppleTV will have a minor impact on business in the near term (next 1-2 qrtrs), with Apple faithful buying in an initial surge and others spending some additional time figuring out what AppleTV is," Munster wrote in his note to clients.

"Ultimately, most Apple specialist stores are optimistic about the long-term prospects for AppleTV," the analyst continued, "but are aware that it may take some time for the product to find itself in the headlights of the average consumer."