Apple likely to ‘muddle through’ gloomier sales outlook

Although planned purchases of PCs by U.S. consumers are at their lowest level since 2002, Apple Inc. should be able to “muddle through” on the strength of its MacBook laptop line, a market research company said Thursday.

But sales of Apple’s aging iMac desktop line look grimmer than ever over the next three months.

According to ChangeWave Research, 30 per cent of the U.S. consumers who said that they plan to buy a laptop in the next 90 days will give the new purchase nod to a Mac, an increase of three percentage points from ChangeWave’s survey last month. Apple’s slice of the desktop buyers pool, however, was down two percentage points to 26 per cent, which prompted Paul Carton, ChangeWave’s research director, to call it a “wash” for Apple.

Even though the future purchase plan survey showed Apple treading water — not sinking, as it did last month — Carton said the numbers looked bad for the company. “Going forward, we see a flat-to-down environment for Apple,” he said.

The reason is simple. “We’re looking here at Apple’s share within a continuing declining market,” said Carton.

That was illustrated by the survey results for overall PC spending plans by consumers. Of the more than 3,100 people polled during the first week of February, only four per cent said they would buy a desktop computer in the next 90 days, down a percentage point from January’s survey. Just six per cent said they will buy a laptop, unchanged from the month before.

“Planned PC buying remains at the lowest level ever recorded in a ChangeWave survey,” Carton said. A year ago, ChangeWave’s polls pegged laptop and desktop PC planned sales at eight per cent and six per cent, respectively, while in June 2007 they were even higher: 12 per cent for notebooks and seven per cent for desktops.

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