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Thursday, August 21, 2008, 08:00 am PT (11:00 am ET)

Apple may report unprecedented 3 million Mac quarter

The investment banking division of the Royal Bank of Canada said Thursday that Apple's back-to-school promotion is showing signs that it will drive the company to a record-smashing quarter in which sales of Macs could exceed 3 million.

In a report to clients, analyst Mike Abramsky cited proprietary data from his firm's recent IQ/ChangeWave Panel which "suggests that massive back-to-school Mac sales" could see the Cupertino-based company report year-over-year growth of 44 percent to 3.04 million units for the three month period ending September.

The study of 4,400 respondents demonstrates "resilience despite a sluggish consumer spending environment," and would also signal 22 percent growth on a sequential basis, the analyst said. Apple shipped a record 2.496 million systems for the most recent quarter ended June.

Specifically, Abramsky pointed to "unprecedented intentions" on the part of consumers during what has historically been only Apple's second strongest Mac quarter. His firm's study found that 34 percent of respondents intend to purchase a Mac notebook in the next 90 days, while another 30 percent plan to buy a Mac desktop.

"We forecast Apple's global PC share to rise to 4.2 percent [in 2009], from 2.9 percent [in 2007]," he said, adding that every 25 basis points of market share gain will equate to $1 billion in incremental revenue and $0.15 in per share earnings.

Two factors appear to be driving the uncharacteristically large surge in fiscal fourth quarter Mac sales, according to the analyst. The first is Apple's back-to-school promotion, which offers a $299 rebate for a free iPod touch to educational customers who purchase a qualifying Mac system through September 15th. The second is an "iPhone halo effect" where 17 percent of consumers in the RBC study say they're now "more likely" to purchase a Mac after having purchased and experienced the new iPhone 3G.

Abramsky has been one most accurate analysts covering Apple in recent quarters, besting all other Wall Street folk tracked by AppleInsider in predicting the results of Apple's second fiscal quarter. He was also the only analyst to accurately predict the company would sell 1 million units of the iPhone 3G in its first weekend on the market.

Abramsky reiterated his Outperform rating and $200 price target on shares of the Mac maker. He estimates sales of 5.1 million iPhones for the company's September quarter and also anticipates new Mac notebooks and iPods will arrive later this quarter or early next.