By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
September 30, 2008

When RBC Capital analyst Mike Abramsky downgraded his Apple rating on Monday — helping spark the sharpest selloff in the company’s shares in eight years — he cited a survey that RBC conducted with ChangeWave that suggested that sales of Apple’s hot-selling computers were cooling off.

RBC’s version of the survey showed that the percentage of technology consumers who plan to buy a Mac in the next 90 days had dropped from 34% in August to 29% in September, the biggest such decline in more than two years.

ChangeWave’s version, which was released Monday here and is displayed in the chart above, focused on corporate purchase plans. It’s based on a survey of 1,947 individuals involved with IT spending within an organization and shows declines in the percentage of companies planning to buy Apple desktop or laptop computers over the next 90 days — from 8% to 7% for laptops and from 6% to 5% for desktops.

[UPDATE: For an inside look at ChangeWave’s consumer survey, see The survey that squashed Apple — Part 2.]

These two bearish signals were enough to persuade Abramsky that it was time to downgrade Apple’s shares, from “outperform” to “sector perform.”

But in the context of the ChangeWave survey, Apple hardly seems to be performing like the rest of its sector. For one thing, Mac purchases have been trending up even as computer purchases across the board have been slumping, as indicated in this ChangeWave chart:

Moreover, in his write-up of the survey, ChangeWave research VP Paul Carton points out that the 1 point drop in corporate purchase plans for Macs was from a record high in May. He also notes that 18% of his respondents now say that their company is considering Apple for a future purchase, a 1 point increase. Finally, he adds:

“In an upbeat sign for Macs, respondents estimate that 18% of their company’s workforce would choose to use a Mac if it were left up to the employees themselves – triple the 6% who are currently using Macs.” (link)

So there are indeed signs of a cooling trend for Apple (AAPL), but it’s not at all clear that they justify an 18% drop in its share price. Dell (DELL), by comparison, dropped 5.9% on Monday and its ChangeWave chart is a disaster:

From the Changewave Alliance website:

ChangeWave runs a proprietary network of 15,000 highly qualified business, technology, and medical professionals referred to as the ChangeWave Alliance. Alliance members are credentialed experts in leading companies of select industries who spend their everyday lives working on the frontline of technological change. (link)

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