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Best Buy to double number of stores selling Apple's Mac line

Leading U.S. electronics specialty retailer Best Buy said this week it plans to increase the number of stores carrying Apple Inc.'s Mac computer line twofold in the next several weeks, signaling robust demand for the Windows PC alternatives in the broader consumer market.

The comments came courtesy of Best Buy executives who held a session at this week's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, where researchers from investment bank UBS were in attendance.

Following the meeting, analyst Ben Reitzes relayed a note to clients explaining that the executives were "very upbeat" about their ongoing relationship with Apple, adding that 500 of the company's 900 electronics stores could be selling Macs come the end of February.

The plan would effectively double the number of Best Buy stores carrying Apple's computer line at the end of 2007, where rough figures placed a healthy array of Macs in approximate 230 to 270 locations.

"Even with prospects for a slowing economy, we believe Mac demand can keep going strong given new products," Reitzes wrote in his note to clients. "The key question into Apple’s earnings is whether Best Buy and new Mac products can help drive upside while iPod demand seems more seasonal."

The analyst added that he expects several new Macs and consumer electronics products to arrive next Tuesday as part of the company's Macworld announcements, including an ultra-portable device, iPhone improvements, and a movie rental service.

Reitzes maintains a Buy rating on shares of Apple with a 12-month price target of $235 per share.