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Apple added to short-term Alpha List at Piper Jaffray

Investment bank Piper Jaffray on Tuesday highlighted shares of Apple Inc. by adding them to its Alpha List, saying three key catalysts are likely to lead to significant share appreciation in the short term.

Companies assigned to the firm's Alpha List may have a 12-month rating of Buy, Neutral or Sell but, as a result of particular near-term catalysts or market conditions, an analyst chooses to emphasize the stock's potential for near-term growth.

In Apple's case, the catalysts will grace each of the company's core business segments, analyst Gene Munster told clients in a research report. Though still unannounced, the first is expected to be a media event early this month that will give way to a new family of iPod digital music players and possibly Mac notebook systems.

"We have analyzed stock action around the September events over the last 3 years," he advised cleints. "On average shares of Apple have risen +4 percent from the week before to the week after the September event and +47 percent from the week before to four months after (through the holidays)."

The Cupertino-based company should also see a boost several weeks later when it announces the results of fiscal fourth quarter ending September. The quarter has been host to a back-to-school promotion offering a free $299 iPod touch, which should drive increases in both iPod and Mac units, Munster said.

The analyst's model for the quarter stands at 2.55 million Mac units and 10.8 million iPods, though recent data from market research firm NPD has led him to believe actual results could come in closer to of 2.7 million to 2.9 million Macs and 10.7 million to 11.2 million iPods.

A final near-term growth driver identified in Munster's research report pertains to the ongoing international iPhone 3G rollout and, more specifically, plans for the device to hit Russia in the coming months.

He noted that Apple increased the iPhone's addressable subscriber base from 370 million to 660 million (+78 percent) last month by adding 34 new carriers in 21 new countries. More recently, however, Russian wireless provider Vimpelcom confirmed that it will be the first regional carrier to offer the iPhone 3G later this year.

Munster said Vimpelcom, which has 42 million subscribers, is likely to be joined in offering the iPhone by Russia's largest carrier, MTS, which maintains a subscriber base of 61 million. Combined, the two would increase iPhone's addressable market by more than 15 percent to 760 million potential subscribers.

"We expect this rollout to drive upside to our September estimates of 4.1 million units," the analyst said. "We believe the additional carriers added in the September quarter, as well as the likely addition of Russian carriers by the end of 2008, are under-appreciated by the Street."

Munster maintains a Buy rating on Apple shares with a $250 price target.