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Tuesday, February 21, 2012, 02:38 pm PT (05:38 pm ET)

Apple's Mac sales solid ahead of "possible MacBook Air refresh" as early as March

NPD Group is reporting essentially flat domestic sales of Macs, but Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster reports that "Apple may launch new MacBook Airs as early as March," helping to boost global Mac sales and reach quarterly street expectations of 4.5 million units.

In a note obtained by AppleInsider, Munster wrote that NPD's domestic retail data points to just 1 percent Mac growth for Apple's Q2 (first calendar quarter) compared to the year ago quarter.

The note highlights Apple's growing international sales, nothing that in the previous quarter, "Mac NPD units were up 12% y/y, but actual worldwide Mac unit growth came in at 26% y/y (a difference of 14 percentage points), suggesting international Mac sales are driving the growth in Mac units."

Air refresher?

Estimating international Mac sales using the same 14 percentage point difference, Munster wrote that "softness in domestic Mac NPD units in the month of January will be offset by continued strong international growth and a possible MacBook Air refresh in March."

Munster cites no evidence to support a MacBook Air refresh; Apple last enhanced the MacBook Air in July of last year, adding new support for Thunderbolt and faster Core i5 and i7 chips.

Apple refreshed its MacBook Pro line twice last year however, once in February to add new Sandy Bridge chips and debut Thunderbolt, and again in minor refresh last October.

Munster reiterated the claim twice however, writing "we believe Apple may launch new MacBook Airs as early as March. Net-net, we believe this early data suggests Mac sales in the range of 4.4m-4.6m, or 17%-22% y/y growth (we believe Street consensus is 4.5m Macs in the quarter and we are also at 4.5m). If iPhone units are down 8% q/q (34m) and Mac units are up 10% y/y, our overall revenue number would be 5% higher than the Street in March."

iPhone 4S launch continues

His note added, "we estimate Mac revenue will represent 17% of overall revenue in the March quarter," adding that "based on our analysis of 3rd party data, we believe iPhone units for the March quarter are tracking down slightly q/q (32m-34m); we are modeling for iPhone units -19% q/q (30m)."

Apple's blockbuster winter quarter, which included sales of over 37 million iPhones, was boosted by the later than usual launch of iPhone 4S. This quarter however, Apple is continuing to launch iPhone 4S in significant new markets.

Apple launched its latest iPhone in Brazil, Taiwan, Russia and 20 other countries within the last two weeks of 2011, then expanded its launch to China and 21 additional countries in mid January.

In early March, Apple will be expanding availability of iPhone 4S in China through China Telecom, the second major carrier to launch the phone after China Unicom.