Are Apple's Mac Shipments Catching Back Up?

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One of several sore spots in Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) earnings release last month that helped contribute to its massive plunge was Mac unit shipments. The 4.1 million Macs that the company shipped were down 22% year-over-year and well short of what analysts were expecting, as nearly everyone underestimated the impact of the iMac supply constraints that Tim Cook had previously warned about.

Well, Apple might be making up for lost time with Mac shipments. According to a recent report from Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster (citing data from market researcher NPD), Apple's domestic Mac shipments jumped 31% in January. That's a big bounce back for the first month of the March quarter, and much more of a rebound than the rest of the PC market would normally be able to expect.

The strong jump in Mac unit shipments is largely coming from improving yields on iMac production, as Apple's popular all-in-one desktop has been in short supply ever since it launched late last year. It's hard for casual observers to tell that Apple's catching up with demand, though, as domestic shipping times from Apple's site still quote the 21.5-inch model at two to three weeks and the 27-inch model at three to four weeks.

The figure also reaffirms my sentiments when I said, "The one saving grace is that Apple customers are a loyal bunch, so most of those sales are simply being pushed into the March quarter instead of being lost altogether." In contrast, prospective buyers of commoditized PCs would have simply gone to the next OEM in line to get their fix.

NPD's estimates also show iPod units rising a modest 3%, which is far better than the 17% decline that Munster is predicting for the full quarter.

The data are encouraging on several levels, but ultimately won't be enough to reverse the negative investor sentiment of late. At this point, it seems like the only catalysts that Apple shareholders can look forward to are a low-cost iPhone or a dividend boost.

There's no doubt that Apple is at the center of technology's largest revolution ever, and that longtime shareholders have been handsomely rewarded with over 1,000% gains. However, there is a debate raging as to whether Apple remains a buy. The Motley Fool's senior technology analyst and managing bureau chief, Eric Bleeker, is prepared to fill you in on both reasons to buy and reasons to sell Apple, and what opportunities are left for the company (and your portfolio) going forward. To get instant access to his latest thinking on Apple, simply click here now.

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