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Tuesday, March 07, 2006, 02:00 pm PT (05:00 pm ET)

Apple struggles with MacBook Pro demand

Strong demand for Apple's new Intel-based MacBook Pro professional notebooks is there but supply of the computers still is not, says research and investment firm PiperJaffray.

While the MacBook Pro officially began shipping about 2 weeks ago, the firm notes that the product is still not readily available through either Apple retail stores or the company's online store.

"Specifically, in our checks over the last several days with 40 Apple retail stores, we found only 4 stores that had the MacBook Pro in stock," analyst Gene Munster wrote in a research note obtained by AppleInsider. "Of the 4 stores that had stock, there were generally only 1-3 MacBook Pros in the store."

Munster said 70 percent of the stores he surveyed have a waiting list of MacBook Pro customers, which shows that demand is clearly not the limiting component with the product. "As has been the case with the last several major Apple product releases, the company is having a hard time making the products readily available to buyers," he wrote. "The good news is that demand for the MacBook Pro is clearly not an issue."

Some comments on MacBook Pro demand received by the analyst as he placed calls to the 40 Apple retail locations were: "Sold about a dozen right away," "Received a big shipment - all sold fast," "The few we had sold quickly; demos just got in last week," "A couple models in stock; interest is high," "Receiving 2-3 daily," Recieving more by end of next week" and "Two models in stock - selling quickly."

Based on limited availability of the MacBook Pro, Munster believes his March quarter Mac unit estimate of 1.298 million units may prove to be overly aggressive. Averaging 11 other analyst models, the he found the Street to be estimating around 1.2 million units on average.

"Outside of the MacBook Pro, our checks two weeks ago with Apple specialist resellers indicated t hat they are not experiencing a significant slowdown in Macs due to customers waiting for Intel-based Macs and iPod availability is significantly better than it was during the December quarter, while iPod demand is only down "slightly," not "significantly" from December to March," Munster wrote.

PiperJaffray is currently recommending the purchase of Apple shares, given that controversy surrounding limited availability of the new MacBook Pro appears to be priced into estimates.

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