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PiperJaffray remains confident in its $103 Apple target

Research and Investment firm PiperJaffray says it would be buyers of Apple shares on the pullback today because it believes the Apple's March quarter guidance will prove to be conservative given that its strategic plan, competitive position, new product roadmap, and market opportunity remain unchanged.

"Our research showed the Intel slowdown in December was a reality, but muted," wrote analyst Gene Munster in a research note released to clients on Thursday. "The March quarter will likely benefit from pent-up demand around the new Intel-based MacBook Pro, which should more than offset the impact of
customers waiting for Intel-based PowerMac and iBooks."

Munster notes that his firm's revenue estimate for the March quarter is 8 percent higher than Apple's guidance. However, the analyst says Apple's conservative guidance primarily reflects uncertainty regarding Mac sales prior to shipment of the remaining Intel-based Macs.

"We believe this is a legitimate reason for a conservative outlook, but we would also note that Apple has exceeded its stated revenue guidance by an average of 12% for the last 3 quarters," the analyst wrote.

Although there has been growing chatter that Apple is becoming a new representation of an
"Internet bubble stock, " PiperJaffray believes this label is unfair, saying there are several reasons why shares can appreciate to the firm's price target of $103 by year end.

Munster believes earnings will grow significantly in the 2006 calendar year, likely above 25 percent. "While 2005 was the year of iPod growth, we believe 2006 is poised to be the year of both iPod growth and, more importantly, Mac market share gains," he wrote.

The analyst also sees Apple making possible inroads into other product categories, such as mobile phones and consumer electronic entertainment devices, possibly by the end of the year.

PiperJaffray maintains an "Outperform" rating on Apple shares.