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Blockbuster 2010 Mac sales expected to carry into February for Apple

A slow start to Mac sales in early 2009 will work to Apple's advantage, potentially making strong 2010 sales seem even more impressive with numbers reflecting huge year-over-year growth, according to a new analysis.

In his latest note to investors, analyst Gene Munster with Piper Jaffray said that Mac sales in February of 2009 were down 16 percent year over year. This represents the softest Mac comparison Munster has seen since Piper Jaffray began tracking the data five years ago.

"We expect the strong (year-over-year) growth in NPD data that we saw in (January) to continue in the month of (February)," he wrote. "We believe this presents a buying opportunity ahead of NPD data for the month of Feb. on 3/15."

Mac sales in January of 2009 were down 6 percent from a year prior. That soft comparison helped 2010 sales grow 36 percent year over year, and implied a range of 2.6 million to 2.8 million Mac sales in the first quarter of calendar 2010. Wall Street, Munster said, expects Apple to ship about 2.6 million.

But with an even easier comparison in February, Munster said Apple is poised to exceed expectations yet again.

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. In all, the first half of 2009 was down 1 percent year-over-year.

While Mac sales struggled in the first half of 2009, Apple saw tremendous growth in the second half of the year, with an average of 18 percent growth. 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.

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 with a price target of $284.