With the PC market in the toilet, it’s no surprise that Wall Street expects Apple (AAPL) to report lousy March quarter Mac sales growth this Wednesday. (Join us for LIVE coverage and analysis.) But it’s still stunning to see how fast the Mac growth engine has stalled.
The Street expects Apple to report that it shipped 2.1-2.2 million Macs last quarter, a 4%-9% year-over-year decline. That would be the first time in more than five years that Apple has reported a year-over-year decline in Mac shipments. The last time was 2003, when Apple reported that it shipped 771,000 Macs during the June quarter — down 5% year-over-year — just ahead of the Power Mac G5 launch.
Apple’s Mac business is somewhat cyclical and not completely dependent on the broader PC market: For instance, there was a steep drop at the end of 2005 and the beginning of 2006 ahead of Apple’s transition to Intel chips. Likewise, this quarter was hurt — especially at the beginning — by stale iMac and Mac mini lines. And Apple has a tough year-ago quarter to match up to: Last year, Apple reported 2.3 million March quarter Mac shipments, up 51% year-over-year, fuelled by the launch of the new MacBook Air.
Could this be the bottom before the PC industry’s next growth spurt? Recent surveys suggest that consumers plan to spend more money on consumer electronics over the next few months, according to RBC analyst Mike Abramsky, who published some ChangeWave survey results in a note Monday. But a lot of the growth is in the nascent netbook market, where Apple doesn’t (yet) participate.