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Tuesday, November 18, 2008, 08:05 am PT (11:05 am ET)

Apple sees Mac sales rise 28% amid latest notebook launch

A slowing global economy had little impact on Apple's computer business last month, as consumers willingly plunked down their cash for the company's new MacBook offerings, helping to drive Mac sales up more than 25 percent year-over-year.

According to data from market research firm NPD, which was relayed in a research note from Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster, sales of Macs during the month of October were up 28 percent compared to the same month one year ago. They benefitted largely from the October 14th launch of the Unibody MacBook (review) and MacBook Pro (review), which began shipping immediately thereafter.

Munster, who analyzes each month of NPD data as it arrives, said he'll need to await statistics from the months of November and December before making a definitive prediction on Apple's total Mac shipments for the company's fiscal first quarter ending the final week of December.

In the meantime, the analyst is using his experience and a recent study of sales at the Mac maker's national retail chain to issue a preliminary prediction of quarterly Mac sales of between 2.5 million to 2.7 million units — a range generally in line with Wall Street's consensus of 2.6 million units.

"Given the MacBook launch in October, growth rates for Mac will likely decline in the months of November and December," he told clients. "That said, our 25 hours counting Macs in US Apple stores from November 9th-16th suggest Mac demand remains healthy, and was up 90 percent year-over-year, and down 5 percent sequentially."

While Munster admits that overall Mac sales are unlikely to be tracking at the 90 percent rate suggested by his recent in-store surveys, he said the study clearly demonstrates that sales of the systems remain healthy. He's modeling conservatively for Macs to post 13 percent growth next month, but did not make a prediction for the current month.

Meanwhile, NPD data on iPod sales shows the players remain strong sellers despite the advent of the iPhone, which includes all of the functions of the iPod touch family.

Compared to last October, sales were down 20 percent. But with the holiday shopping season just ahead, newly updated models on store shelves, and strong international demand, Munster believes Apple will still manage to sell anywhere from 18.5 million to 19 million units during the three-month period ending December.

Considering Apple sold 22.1 million units last December quarter, that would represent only a 14 to 16 percent yearly sales decline. However, the Piper Jaffray analyst said earlier this week he expects the company to also sell 6.4 million iPhones during the quarter, compared to 2.31 million last December quarter, suggesting the Cupertino-based firm will ship approximately 1 million more handheld products this holiday season than it did last.

"Despite the expectation for an extended consumer slowdown hitting the consumer electronics space, we believe Apple is well-positioned to weather the storm," he said. "The company has recently leveraged its unit volumes in the iPod, Mac, and iPhone businesses to lower prices moderately while generally maintaining margins."