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Thursday, March 16, 2006, 03:15 pm PT (06:15 pm ET)

PiperJaffray: \"75 percent chance\" of an Apple iPhone

Research and investment firm PiperJaffray this week told clients it would be buyers of Apple Computer shares given the recent pullback, explaining that the company should soon benefit from Intel Mac sales and is very likely to announce a cellphone-based product in the near term.

Speaking to clients in a brief research note on Wednesday, analyst Gene Munster said an extrapolation of the first two months of iPod data from NPD suggests that shipments of the players during Apple's current (March) quarter will essentially fall in line with estimates.

"Earlier today, we received the second month of iPod retail NPD data for Apple's March quarter," Munster wrote. "Our preliminary analysis of iPod unit shipment data from NPD leads us to believe that Apple is on track to meet or be slightly below our 9.0 [million] iPod unit assumptions."

According to the analyst, the current data suggests iPod unit shipments for the quarter will fall between 8.8 million and 9.1 million units.

"We would be buyers of Apple on today's pullback given we believe iPod demand will accelerate in mid-2006, based on upcoming positive seasonality and new form factor iPod's," the analyst wrote. "Additionally, we believe Apple will benefit from the new Intel-based Mac's, along with what we estimate to be a 75 percent chance of a iPhone in the next 12 months."

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