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In a new note to investors Tuesday, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster provided the latest NPD Group data for January, the first month of the company's March quarter. The 36 percent growth over 2009 implies a range of 2.6 million to 2.8 million Mac sales could be possible in the three month frame. Munster said Wall Street expects Apple to sell 2.6 million Macs.
Apple is expected to refresh its MacBook Pro notebooks this quarter, which could also offer a boost to sales in the next few months. Munster noted that just one month of Mac sales makes the quarter difficult to forecast.
"It is way too early to make a call on the quarter," he wrote.
If Apple sells 2.8 million Macs in the first quarter of 2010, it would represent a 26 percent increase over the start of 2009. A year ago, January Mac sales were down 6 percent from 2008.
While Mac sales struggled in the first half of 2009, Apple saw tremendous growth in the second half of the year. In the holiday quarter alone, Apple sold a record 3.36 million Macs, helping its profits grow more than 50 percent to $3.38 billion.
NPD data from January, Munster said, also shows iPod sales up 5 percent year over year. This led Piper Jaffray to forecast between 9 million and 10 million iPod sales for the March quarter, with Wall Street expecting Apple to sell about 9 million.
These figures would amount to a decrease of between 9 percent and 17 percent in sales from 2009 for the March quarter.
In addition, the NPD data shows the average selling price of Macs is down about 9 percent year over year, while iPod ASPs are up about 4 percent.
He also reiterated his belief that both Mac and iPod sales have favorable comparisons in the first half of 2010. Unlike the second half of 2009, when outstanding Mac sales jumped 18 percent, the first half of 2009 saw a year-over-year decline. That places Apple in a position to exceed expectations, Munster said.
Munster is particularly bullish on Apple stock and Mac sales for 2010. In January, he called it the "Year of the Mac," even with what proved to be a low forecast of 3.1 million Macs for the December quarter.
Piper Jaffray has maintained its "overweight" rating for AAPL stock, as well as a price target of $284.