Apple's Seasonal Sales Fluctuations Can Confuse Observers

Apple has been the happy or unhappy victim, depending on oneis perspective, of seasonal fluctuations in its Macintosh sales for many years. The slides and gains from quarter to quarter are the result of customer buying habits and are often overlooked when analyzing Appleis growth trends.

Apple is a maker of high end, quality computers. As such, the purchases tend to be really good in Appleis Fiscal first quarter, Q1 (Oct through Dec). Weive seen that trend amplified even more with iPod purchases, a favorite Christmas gift.

Yearly Quarters (Q103-Q408 est) vs. Mac sales, (millions)

What happens next is that Apple spends the remaining fiscal quarters trying to duplicate that phenomenal Q1 after a Q2 dip. In Q2 (Jan-Mar), right after Macworld, consumers are confronted with snowy weather and paying off those holiday credit cards and sales dip.

In Q3 (Apr-Jun) secondary education sales pick up for fall planning, and in Q4 (Jul-Sep), general back to school sales pick up, especially college, but are offset a little by enterprise buyers being on vacation and not in the office to order equipment.

While the pattern isnit always precisely repeated, there is always that post Q1 dip and then an incremental recovery. What observers need to take into account is that if theyire looking at month to month advances in the enterprise, this cyclic pattern can be a source of confusion.

Whatis really important is the overall rise in Mac sales, year over year. Thatis what Apple focuses on, because it can, and it looks really good. And itis not that bad a comparison.

There are some who would like to see successive, incremental gains in every quarter, but Apple just isnit there yet. Until Apple achieves that, the analysis of Appleis short term Mac sales, for both the consumer and enterprise, has to take into account this distinct seasonal pattern.