Investment banks stand behind Apple's move to cage its cat

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Several investment banks are throwing their weight behind Apple's decision Thursday to delay its Leopard operating system in favor of pushing its eagerly sought iPhone device into the market on time.

"Although the push out of Leopard is not ideal, we view iPhone as the driver of the next leg to the Apple growth story and this announcement should abate recent concerns about any potential delay in the launch, which we believe is more important to the stock," said David Bailey, the lead analyst covering the Cupertino-based Mac maker for Goldman Sachs.

Ben Reitzes, an analyst at UBS, offered similar comments to his clients on Friday. While acknowledging Leopard's slip as a bit of a setback for Apple, he said news that the iPhone is on track to ship in June is a positive given there have been some recent concerns of delays or push outs in build plans for the revolutionary device.

"We continue to view the iPhone as a significant opportunity for Apple and while initial unit shipment volumes may be small (we estimate 250,000 in fiscal 3Q07) – we believe units could reach 2.7 million by fiscal 4Q08," Reitzes wrote. "We believe the iPhone trade-off (shipping it on time, rather than Leopard) is much more important to Apple’s top and bottom line long-term."

Given the 4-month delay of Leopard, the UBS analyst lowered his fiscal 2007 estimates while raising his fiscal 2008 estimates to reflect the push-out of software sales from the June and September 2007 quarters into Apple's 2008 fiscal year. Over at Goldman, Bailey recognized similar actions, saying "Apple has pushed $25-50 million in revenue out of the June quarter, and roughly $100 million out of the September quarter." He added that while the Mac maker "should be able to fully recover the software revenue in the December and March quarters, the delay could also push out some Mac sales as well."

Concerns over a pause in Mac sales following the Leopard delay were also a topic of conversation in a JMP Securities research note released Friday morning. There, analyst Ingrid Ebeling similarly addressed the delay by reducing her 2007 third and fourth fiscal quarter estimates for Apple while increasing her estimates for the first fiscal quarter of 2008.

Like analysts over at AmTech and PiperJaffray, Ebeling also expressed suspicion over Apple's stated cause for the Leopard delay, suggesting that a more truthful explanation may lie in rumors that the company is working on an embedded version of Boot Camp that will offer true Windows Vista virtualization under the new OS.

"The current version of the operating system, Tiger, is already considered steps ahead of Vista, and we have seen only positive traction in market share gain with Apple," she told clients. "The success of its ad campaigns and retail strategy, among other things, are all contributing to market share gains. We have even heard the delay could be due to waiting until Vista is fully supported on an integrated version of Boot Camp, which could prove even more positive for Mac adoption."

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