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Analyst sees Intel PowerBook in January

Apple Computer could introduce its first laptop computers based on Intel chips as early as January, which, together with robust sales of video iPods, should drive earnings higher, Citigroup said on Wednesday.

"We are becoming more convinced that Apple will introduce its first Intel-based PowerBook at Macworld San Francisco," analyst Richard Gardner said in a research note sent to clients.

The analyst believes Apple plans to introduce the professional laptops sooner than expected in order to help minimize the risk that it would end up with an inventory buildup of its current non-Intel laptops as customers anticipate the new models.

Earlier this month, reliable sources also pinned the PowerBook for a January introduction, saying that Apple is working feverishly to complete a noticeably slimmer 15-inch model for a possible Macworld introduction alongside an Intel-based iMac.

Along with his product predictions, Gardner raised his target price on Apple stock to $71 from $51 and boosted his earnings forecasts for the next two years.

For the current quarter, Gardner raised his revenue estimate to $5.5B and earnings-per share estimates to 60 cents, up from $4.8B and 47 cents.

He also raised his 2006 revenue forecast to $20.4B and $2.16, up from from $17.6B and $1.72.

In 2007, Gardner expects Apple to generate revenues of $24.3B and earn a profit of $2.61 per-share.