Changewave: Apple MacBook outlook improves amidst dismal PC spending environment

ChangeWave’s February consumer survey results point to yet another leg downward in U.S. consumer spending going forward, reversing the tiny signs of stabilization seen in the January survey.

The ChangeWave survey of 3,115 consumers was conducted February 2-9, 2009, and shows that better than three-in-five U.S. respondents (61%) say they’ll spend less money over the next 90 days, 4-pts worse than the January survey.

Just 12% of respondents say they’ll spend more money, 1-pt worse than previously.

A Decline in Consumer Sentiment and Expectations

Respondents were also asked their impressions of the economy, and the survey finds consumer sentiment and expectations have turned considerably more negative than they were in early January.

Two-in-three (64%) respondents now think the overall direction of the U.S. economy will worsen over the next 90 days – 8-pts worse than a month ago. Only 8% believe the economy will improve – a decline of 4-pts to the lowest reading since we began asking this question.

Other sentiment indicators are even less encouraging:
• Only 14% say they are More Confident in the U.S. stock market than they were 90 days ago, 12-pts worse than previously. Another 42% say they’re Less Confident, 11-pts worse.
• Three-in-five (59%) report they are dissatisfied with their personal finances, 1-pt worse than January. Just 4% say they are Very Satisfied.

Primary Reasons for Spending Less

For the sixth-consecutive survey since July, Saving More Money (42%; up 1-pt) has risen as a key concern and is now one of the top reasons why consumers are spending less. Reducing Debt (35%; down 1-pt) also remains a major factor.

But the number one reason is Reduced Income (44%; up 6-pts), which has surged 6-pts since January alone.

Where Is Spending Slowing Most?

The U.S. has hit the point in the recessionary cycle where even the mightiest of retailers are being brought to their knees. Costco, which has already experienced a significant drop in its growth rate over the past 8 months, has plunged another 5-pts in the current survey – its biggest downward move so far. Wal-Mart – which has performed admirably over most of this same time period – also appears to be hitting a wall going forward. Only 13% of consumers report they’ll spend more at Wal-Mart and 11% less, a 4-pt drop since January.

At the sector level, new record lows have been recorded in Consumer Electronics and Restaurants, while Durable Goods for the Home have also taken a big hit.

Consumer PC Market Continues to Weaken

Going forward, planned PC buying among consumers remains at the lowest level ever recorded in a ChangeWave survey. Only 4% of respondents say they’ll buy a desktop in the next 90 days – 1-pt less than in a January 2009 survey. Just 6% say they’ll buy a laptop.

Within the shrinking overall PC spending environment, Apple (AAPL) planned laptop purchases (30%) for the next 90 days have improved 3-pts since our previous survey in January. But at the same time, planned desktop purchases (26%) have dipped 2-pts.

In terms of actual Apple purchases over the past 90 days, Mac Laptops (20%; down 2-pts) and Desktops (15%; down 2-pts) continue to show weakness among consumers.

Hewlett-Packard’s (HPQ) visibility appears steady going forward. Planned desktop purchases (28%) are holding their outsized gains from the previous survey, while planned laptops (22%) have dipped 1-pt.

Planned consumer purchases of Dell (DELL) Desktops (32%) and Laptops (26%) have both fallen 2-pts.

Consumer Satisfaction

In terms of customer satisfaction, there’s no question which company is the industry leader. Among respondents who bought an Apple Mac over the past 90 days, 81% say they are Very Satisfied. This compares to a 55% Very Satisfied rating for Dell and a 52% for H-P.

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Source: ChangeWave Research

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