By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
April 15, 2009

One of the things that distinguishes Gene Munster’s coverage of Apple AAPL from the other analysts who follow the company is that he actually leaves his office, goes into Apple stores, and counts sales.

Last week, he and his colleagues at Piper Jaffray spent a total of 25 hours visiting a sampling of Apple stores around the country — both mall outlets and flagship stores — where they recorded how many iPhones, Macs and iPods they observed being sold.

On Wednesday, he released the results of those counts — and his analysis of what they mean for Apple’s fiscal Q2 results, due out on April 22.

Bottom line: Although sales are down across the board, Munster expects them to meet or — in the case of the iPhone — significantly beat the Street’s expectations. In particular:

  • iPhone: Munster’s team counted a weighted average of 22 iPhones being sold per day — well below both July/Aug ’08 (95 per day) and Nov. ’08 (28). Although that suggests a 15% drop from Q1, or 3.7 million iPhones for the quarter, Munster estimates that when international sales are factored in, Apple may meet his target of 4.4. million units for the quarter. The Street is expecting 3.3 million.
  • Mac: The 28 Macs that Munster’s team counted is considerably above the number his model predicts, but March sales were boosted by the arrival of desktop models that weren’t available in January and February. Adjusting for the difference, Munster estimates that Apple finished the quarter having sold 2.2 million Macs, up slightly from the Street’s expectation of 2.1 million.
  • iPod: This was the first time the Piper Jaffray team monitored iPod sales, so it doesn’t have previous counts with which to compare the results. But Apple was selling twice as many iPods as iPhones last week, in line with the Street’s estimate of about 10 million iPods for the quarter.

Munster tends to be more bullish on Apple than most analysts. Although he lowered his $240 price target when it was clear that the company wasn’t going to release new iPhones in January, his current $180 price target is one of the highest in the business. The stock closed at $118.31 on Tuesday.

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