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Mac sales growth stalls -- here's why Apple doesn't care

Gregg Keizer | April 24, 2013
Apple's Mac has been punished by shifting consumer tastes just as has the overall PC industry, data from the company's earnings statements show.

In other words, Apple's iPad is likely a big reason for the Mac's limp growth in 2012, just as it and the less-expensive tablets running Google's Android were among the causes of the even-larger drop in Windows PC sales.

Mac unit sales growth took a beating last year, best illustrated by the fourth quarter's 22% decline. (Data: Apple.)

A major Mac slump, however, did not worry Cook in January. And if his past is any hint, a continuation of that trend won't perturb him much today, either.

"I am sure there was some cannibalization of Macs there," said Cook during the company's last earnings call, referring to iPad sales and their impact on Macs. He then launched into a refrain he'd used before. "[But] I see cannibalization as a huge opportunity for us. On iPad in particular, we have the mother of all opportunities here, because the Windows market is much, much larger than the Mac market is."

Singh agreed. "The iPad's cannibalization of the Mac is fairly natural. Apple executives have been upfront about this, but I don't think it affects them as much as it affects other PC manufacturers."

He had a point.

When iPad and Mac unit sales are combined -- an approach more analysts are seeing as appropriate since tablets are taking over at least some of the chores once relegated to personal computers -- Apple's year-over-year growth remains on the positive side.

Even the fourth quarter of 2012, when Mac sales were down 22%, shows iPad+Mac growth of 31%.

True, the combined unit sales also show a slowing of gains in 2012 from the triple-digit growth of 2010 and early 2011, but the numbers for last year would be envied by any company, ranging from a high of 87% in the first quarter to 18% in the third.

Still, Apple's stock has taken a beating since last September, down 43% from its high of $702, in part because investors see the slowing growth and are nervous.

"Apple's stock price reflects a growing realization that growth in the high-end market for the iPhone and iPad is drying up, compared to the competition," agreed Singh. "But I don't see Mac cannibalization as a prime concern."

Nor can a continued Mac slump drastically affect Apple's balance sheet, for the simple fact that personal computers have become virtually a side business for the company. In the fourth quarter of 2012, Mac sales accounted for just 10% of Apple's revenue, a record low, besting the first quarter of 2012, when computers accounted for 12.9% of Apple's revenue.

"Apple has a much bigger revenue presence in tablets than other PC manufacturers do," said Singh.


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