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Thursday, March 17, 2011, 05:25 am PT (08:25 am ET)

Shortages of Apple's iPad and iPhone to bleed into June quarter following Japan tsunami

The March 11th tsunami that has devastated Japan is expected to create shortages of Apple's most popular products for the remainder of the month and through next quarter, as at least two of the company's core component suppliers in the region have temporarily shut down operations to assess damages.

Speaking to contacts in Asia last night, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster learned that the production status from Apple's Japanese-based component suppliers is changing hour by hour, but said that none of those partners have been able to quantify the extent of their damage with any degree of certainty, nor have they set a timeline for when production will resume.

In particular, Munster said that Mitsubishi Gas Chemical Co, which he believes is Apple's primary supplier of BT resin — used in producing printed circuit boards for chips in iPhone and iPad — is temporarily shut down to assess damage related to the earthquake. Similarly, Toshiba, which produces around 40% of the world's flash memory and supplies a significant portion of that to Apple for its iOS devices, is temporarily shut down for the same reasons.

As such, the analyst expects component delays for some of Apple's key products, including iPhone 4 and iPad 2, to persist throughout the June quarter. That said, he notes that the company's investor community has historically chosen not to punish the company for supply-related issues as long as demand for Apple products remains strong. In this case, "demand is stronger than ever, which should move shares higher," he said.

Potentially helping to mitigate the affect of this month's natural disaster is Apple's strategic component purchasing deals, which have seen the company secure long-term supply arrangements (1, 2, 3, 4) for key components such as flash memory and displays from multiple vendors in order to create a layer of protection and redundancy that kicks in during situations such as these.

"This strategy has proven to be an effective way for Apple to leverage its balance sheet and its position as one of the largest buyers of many of the components it uses; moreover, this strategy may prove particularly helpful if supply is limited and pricing increases," Munster said. "Finally, we believe Apple buys futures on important components, which will help offset near-term pricing swings. Our conclusion is that Apple is well positioned to suffer proportionally less than its competitors."

Although the analyst isn't concerned with Apple maintaining its well-above-average profit margins during the March and June quarters, he does believe rising component prices as a result of the Japanese quake could apply some downward pressure on profits during the second half of the year as component prices may rise.

On the consumer buying side, Munster estimates that the disruption in Japan will impact his March quarter revenue estimates for Apple by just under 1%, or $202 million. In the worst case scenario, assuming the company generates absolutely no sales in the region through the first half of the June quarter, he believes the negative effect would equate to just 2.7%, or $563 million.

The analyst maintained his Overweight rating and $483 price target on shares of Apple.