Apple shares rise on hint of low-end iPod

Company won't comment on rumors of upcoming flash-memory digital music player.

Shares of Apple Computer rose 4.9 percent on Monday after analysts said they expected the company to intro a smaller, cheaper iPod in January.

Bear Stearns analyst Andrew Neff now expects Apple to earn $1.85 a share in its fiscal year ending in September 2005, up from his previous forecast of $1.55. He hiked his price target on the stock to $72 by the end of fiscal 2005.

Some analysts and Apple rumor sites expect the company to expand into the lower end of the digital music market in January with iPods that hold songs on flash memory microchips rather than roomier but more expensive hard drives.

Neff expected the new players to cost $150 to $200, compared with $249 for the iPod mini, currently the cheapest model.

An Apple spokesman said the company does not comment on rumors and speculation. CEO Steve Jobs often introduces new products during the company's Macworld convention, which is set to take place from January 10 to 14 in San Francisco.

Flash memory retains data even when power to the chip is shut off. Flash-based players typically cost less than hard-disk drive-based players, but are smaller and hold fewer songs than the current iPods, which use hard disk drives.

JP Morgan, citing expectations for strong holiday sales, raised its fiscal 2005 earnings-per-share estimates from $1.48 to $1.69 and its revenue estimate from $11.4 billion to $12.9 billion.

On average, analysts now expect Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple to earn $1.41 per share on revenue of $11.1 billion, according to Reuters Estimates.

"Based on our existing assumption for Apple to ship 10 million flash-based iPods in calendar 2005, the company would achieve worldwide market share of about 30 percent in its first year, if IDC's current forecast for 34 million units holds true," Neff wrote in a research note to clients.

IDC is a technology market research firm.

Apple stock erased losses on Friday, when Needham & Co. analyst Charles Wolf lowered his investment rating on Apple shares to "hold" from "buy," saying much of the potential upside to the company's business is already reflected in the stock price.

"With the stock now trading close to $70," he wrote, "we believe that most of the upside is now captured in Apple's current share price."

Apple rose $3.10, or 4.95 percent, to close at $65.78 on Nasdaq. The stock has more than tripled in value this year, largely on the success of the iPod.

Apple sold more than 2 million iPods in its fiscal fourth quarter ended in September. For the March quarter, Neff expects total iPod sales of 3.9 million units and flash-based iPod sales of 1.5 million units.

Story Copyright © 2004 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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