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Thursday, December 22, 2005, 10:45 am PT (01:45 pm ET)

Apple Specialists say holiday Macs sales up year-over-year

After speaking with 20 Apple Specialist this week, research and investment firm PiperJaffray said that resellers are experiencing stronger holiday sales of both iPods and Macs this year verses last year, with only a "handful" of customers choosing to hold off their new Mac purchases until Intel Macs are unveiled.

"As we expected, the majority of Apple specialists we spoke with are expecting December 2005 to be up from December 2004," analyst Gene Munster wrote in a research note released to clients on Thursday morning. "Specifically, 60-percent of resellers expect [this year] be stronger than [last] and half of the 60-percent indicated that [this year] will be "significantly better" than [last]."

Several Specialist resellers indicated that this holiday season is up more than 30-percent compared to last year, saying both iPod and Mac sales are up year-over-year. iMac sales appear to be the strongest, with 75-percent of Apple Specialist reporting that the all-in-one desktop is selling better than they would have expected.

"We have gotten a lot of questions regarding the potential for Apple customers to slow down Mac buying ahead of next year's Intel transition," Munster wrote. "We asked the 20 Apple resellers if they are seeing evidence of this trend. 60-percent of value added resellers (VARs) in our sample said they have seen a few customers indicating that they intend to wait until next year to see what Apple releases, but in all cases this was a small group of customers."

Meanwhile, the analyst corroborates reports that indicate Apple is doing a better job of providing iPod supply for it's top-tier Apple Specialist stores than expected.

"40-percent of resellers said that they have at least one size/color of all varieties of iPod," Munster wrote. "45-percent indicated that they have patchy supply, which in most cases meant that they were missing the 30GB and 60GB iPod." Only 15-percent of resellers said they were completely sold out of all iPods.

The analyst accurately points out that Apple's "pecking order" for iPod supply is: Apple retail stores, Apple specialist VARs, and then standard resellers and "big-box" retailers, in that order.

PiperJaffray maintains its Outperform rating on Apple shares with a price target of $80.