Has Apple's Mac Business Bottomed?

Apple’s (AAPL) new Macs — released last week — mean March sales should be OK. But look out for ugly February numbers, Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster warns in a note today.

Next Monday, retail market research firm NPD Group will release its estimates for Apple’s February Mac sales. They will probably not be pretty: Munster estimates February Mac sales could be down 12% year-over-year, worse than January’s 6% year-over-year drop. And way worse than a year ago, when Apple’s February Mac sales — per NPD — jumped 60% year-over-year, driven by the then-new MacBook Air.

But Munster thinks — and it makes sense — that Apple’s Mac business will recover this month. While the updates Apple made to its iMac and Mac mini weren’t drastic, they should satisfy some pent-up demand. Munster estimates that March Mac sales will dip 1% year-over-year, as estimated by NPD. That’s not nearly as good as last year, when March sales jumped 72%. But in this economy — the PC industry is expected to shrink the most ever this year — we’ll take it.

Munster thinks this means Apple’s March quarter Mac shipments, per NPD, will drop 6% year-over-year, around the 4% year-over-year drop he extrapolated a month ago.

That is a sharp frop from a year ago, when Apple’s Mac shipments grew 51% year-over-year. It’s not unexpected, given the shape of the economy, and the fact that Apple doesn’t (yet) play in one of the PC industry’s biggest growth markets — netbooks. (And Apple is still doing better than many of its competitors.) But it’s still a bit of a shock to see Apple lose last year’s biggest growth story so fast.

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