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Most AT&T stores expecting less than 40 iPhones at launch

WR Hambrecht & Co. on Wednesday raised its price target on shares of Apple Inc, citing falling component prices during the current quarter and pent-up demand for iPhone leading into next month's launch.

The firm surveyed a number of Cingular/AT&T stores to get a feel for potential retail demand as well as expected availability and found that most locations are still in the dark as to when they will receive initial shipments of the inaugural Apple handset.

"[Our] results indicate that the stores do not have reliable color on the timing of when they will have the phone; most stores expect the phone on June 15th or June 22nd, and most expect to only have a few (highest number was 40 at one store) on hand initially," analyst Matthew Kather wrote in a report.

The analyst added that overall pent-up retail demand appears very strong, with about 15-20 percent of the stores that were contacted saying they are keeping a waiting list for customers interested in purchasing the device.

Shares of Apple may begin to see increased activity a couple of weeks ahead of the iPhone launch, according to Kather, who notes the company's Worldwide Developers Conference is set to tip-off during the week of June 11th.

"We expect Apple to unveil an update to its Mac franchise, specifically on the professional lines, which could include new features like instant boot given the new technology from Intel's Centrino platform," he wrote. "The could be a number of other software related announcements too around the Mac platform, and possibly the iPhone/Apple TV."

Kather, who maintains a Buy rating on shares of the Cupertino-based Apple, raised his target to $125 per share from $115 per share, while also increasing his estimates for the company's June quarter on sliding component prices.

Specifically, the analyst cited "falling to stable" component prices on a sequential basis for DRAM and NAND flash, which should drive gross margins to 33.5 percent, up from his previous estimate of 32.5 percent and Apple's guidance of 32 percent.

"Component prices will not be as big of a tailwind as in the [first calendar quarter of the year], in our opinion, but with DRAM on track to decline about 40 - 50 percent and NAND prices mostly slightly up to flat quarter-over-quarter, it should still flow through to very strong gross margins for the June quarter," he explained. "Additionally, we believe the upcoming iPhone launch will be a catalyst for modest multiple expansion in the stock price due to the planned deferred revenue recognition of iPhone sales."