Financial analysts forecast flat Mac sales

Even that would be an improvement after four straight down quarters

Although Wall Street expects Apple to report increased iPhone sales later today, a group of financial analysts predicted there will not be a similar boost in Mac numbers.

According to the average forecast of 26 analysts polled by the Apple 3.0 website, Apple sold fewer than 5.3 million Macs in the December quarter. Their prediction posited a year-over-year decline of approximately 30,000 units, which would represent a slip of six-tenths of a percentage point from the same period in 2015.

Six of the 26 analysts bucked the average, saying Apple would report an increase in Mac sales; the most bullish pegged his bet at 5.71 million, for a 7.5% increase.

In the fourth quarter of 2015, Apple sold 5.31 million Macs, making the three-month stretch the fourth-largest ever. Revenue from the Mac line in that quarter was about $6.7 billion, which accounted for just 8.9% of the company total, the smallest slice ever for the personal computer segment.

It was clear from Wall Street's forecasts that analysts aren't convinced that Apple helped its Mac case with the introduction of new top-tier -- and top-priced -- MacBook Pro notebooks in late October. Those laptops, which feature an OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diodes) display strip replacing the function keys -- called the Touch Bar -- were 20% more expensive than their predecessors.

Price was not the only obstacle to increased sales: As has been the pattern for Apple's new products, the MacBook Pro notebooks launched into shortages that lasted several weeks.

Others had concurred with the analysts' average earlier this month. Research firm IDC, for example, estimated that Apple sold 5.26 million Macs in the December quarter. Meanwhile, rival Gartner envisioned sales of 5.44 million, a 2% increase over 2015.

Even flattened sales would be an improvement for Apple, as Mac sales have been down year-over-year for four consecutive quarters.

Apple will reveal Mac sales just before the start of the 2 p.m. PT (5 p.m. ET) earnings call on its investors website. The call will be audio cast from that site.

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