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Monday, March 12, 2007, 06:00 am PT (09:00 am ET)

Apple estimates raised at ThinkEquity ahead of Leopard launch

ThinkEquity Partners LCC on Monday joined a chorus of Wall Street firms predicting that Apple Inc. will be ready to deliver its next-generation Leopard operating system to market "in the next few weeks."

"With the Leopard launch (Mac OS X v 10.5) just around the corner, we have revisited our Apple revenue and earnings power estimates in light of the ever-larger Mac OS X user base," analyst Jonathan Hoopes wrote in a note to clients.

Hoopes, who believes the software will "hit the market sometime in the next few weeks," raised his fiscal 2007 estimates on the Cupertino-based company as a result. He's now forecasting the Mac maker to earn $3.24 per share on sales of 24.4 billion (up from $3.06 and $23.6 billion), representing 43 percent earnings growth and 26.3 percent sales growth year-over-year.

"We like how Vista has established a 'hardware upgrade mindset' among PC users, and we expect Apple CPU unit shipments to benefit from Vista tailwinds, the release of Leopard, and a CS3 pro catalyst," the analyst told clients. "Meanwhile, Apple's strong retail store presence; all the buzz around the iPhone, the hugely successful iPod/iTunes combo; and Apple's popular Mac ad campaign are likely to combine into a 'maybe I should buy a Mac' decision."

Like other analysts who've weighed in on the subject in recent weeks, Hoopes said it's his belief that Adobe's Creative Suite 3.0 software suites will hit the market around the same time as Leopard. He estimates Apple's creative professional user base to be approximately 4 to 5 million strong, many of which may be awaiting the software roll-out before upgrading their Mac hardware systems.

"We believe many creative professionals prefer waiting to waitlisting when it comes to upgrading their business-critical systems," the analyst wrote. "Moreover, the release of CS3 should help unlock pent-up demand among this user group."

Shares of Apple were trading up $0.05 to $88.02 in early morning trading on the Nasdaq stock market.