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Friday, February 24, 2006, 10:05 am PT (01:05 pm ET)

Analyst believes Apple\'s quarter will turn out just fine

Based on checks with Apple specialist resellers and an analysis of iPod unit shipment data released this week, research and investment firm PiperJaffray believes Apple is on track to have a March quarter that is in line to slightly above estimates.

"Specifically, our checks with Apple specialist resellers last week indicated that they are not experiencing a significant slowdown in Mac sales due to customers waiting for Intel-based Macs and, outside of Macs, iPod availability is significantly better than it was during the December quarter, while iPod demand is only down "slightly," not "significantly" from Dec-05 to Mar-06," analyst Gene Munster wrote in a research note released to clients on Friday.

Additionally, Munster said a preliminary analysis of iPod unit shipment data from NPD leads him to believe that Apple is on track to meet or slightly exceed his firm's iPod unit assumptions. "It is important to note, however, that our extrapolation is based on only one month of data (January) in Apple's March quarter," the analyst cautioned.

Based on the analysis, Munster issued a preliminary iPod number of 9.3 million units for the current quarter. "Our analysis of NPD iPod unit data starts with looking at the percentage unit contribution in NPD data from each month of the quarter in past March quarters," the analyst explained.

Looking forward, PiperJaffray believes the Apple story will continue to gain momentum in 2007, as the company is addressing the fastest growing market segments that touch the digital consumer.

"Given Apple's current trajectory, legitimate competition in these markers in 2007 is unlikely," the firm said. "While seemingly aggressive, we expect Apple can outperform the competition for multiple years, assuming the current pace of innovation continues."

PiperJaffray maintains an "Outperform" rating on Apple shares with a price target of $103.