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Apple controlling 60% of available touch panel capacity, analyst says

Apple has exerted strong control over the touch panel supply chain to prevent shipping delays of the iPad 2, booking as much as 60 percent of the total available capacity, says one analyst.

ThinkEquity analyst Rajesh Ghai issued a note to clients Thursday claiming that it is unlikely that Apple will face component shortages for the second-generation iPad, Barrons reports.

"Apple has already booked approximately 60% of the total available touch panel capacity. While some reports have stated that Apple will be facing component shortages for the iPad resulting from the Japanese earthquake, Hon Hai, Apple’s primary manufacturing source has stated that it does not expect any component shortages, and alternate suppliers have been lined up."

Ghai's report aligns with a similar note from Ticonderoga Securities analyst Brian White. According to White, Apple has been "aggressively attacking" the component situation in Japan by offering upfront cash payments, in a move that could block competitors from access to critical components.

Another report also alleged on Thursday that Apple had "booked up most of the available capacity" of touch panels, potentially resulting in a one month delay for Research in Motion's BlackBerry PlayBook.

However, Ghai cautioned that, even after having obtained sufficient components, Apple will likely report a "steady though unspectacular Q2" later this month.

Ghai maintains a Buy rating on Apple, while estimating $22.94 billion in revenue for the March quarter. According to the report, consensus estimates have come in at $23.2 billion in revenue.

The analyst expects a strong showing from the launches of the iPad 2 and the Verizon iPhone 4, with some offset from decreased sales in Japan and higher component costs. Last month, it was suggested that Apple had agreed to touch panel price increases as a result of supply disruption stemming from the earthquake and tsunami disaster that struck Japan on March 11.

Given the continued backlog of demand for the iPad 2 coupled with plans to launch the device in even more countries in the near future, Apple executives have made securing sufficient supplies of touch displays a top priority. Several analysts have claimed that production difficulties and yield issues with the iPad display have been the major constraining factor.

Regarding rumors of potential delays of the next-generation iPhone 5, Ghai sees an upside, noting that “the launch of a more feature-rich phone in the seasonally stronger second half could prove to be a boon for Apple in the long run.” Though a delay would "put a lid" on Apple's Q3 forecast in the short-term, Apple could potentially compensate with significant hardware upgrades, such as LTE technology and Near Field Communication, that are worth the wait, said Ghai.