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Street has eye on Apple

The stock retreats slightly but still hovers near a 52-week high, even after Wall Street largely maintains a "hold" recommendation.

Apple Computer's stock retreated slightly today but still hovered near the 52-week high it reached yesterday, even after one analyst cut his rating on the stock and Wall Street largely maintained a "hold" recommendation.

The shares climbed past yesterday's new high of 32.5625 in morning trading but later settled back to finish at 31.6875. Apple's shares have stayed in the above-30 range since early January, when they traded under 15.

Keith Bossey, an analyst with Robert M. Cohen, downgraded Apple to "neutral" from a "speculative buy." His revision stemmed from concerns that Apple had reached its 18-month target of 32 a share and that, as a result, any "easy money" now may already have been made.

But Lou Mazzucchelli, an analyst with Gerard Klauer Mattison, reiterated his "buy" recommendation on the stock and noted that his 12-month target price is 40 a share.

Cohen is so far the only analyst to downgrade his Apple buy-sell recommendations this month, and changes on the earnings estimate front have been equally quiet.

Chuck Hill, an analyst with First Call, pointed out that only one analyst lowered his earnings estimate on Apple this month. That analyst cut his estimate by 4 cents a share, though his revised figure still remains above analysts' consensus for the third quarter of 33 cents a share, Hill said.

Apple will report its third-quarter earnings on July 15.

Apple's stock got a boost yesterday after interim chief executive Steve Jobs confirmed Wall Street's expectations that the computer maker would post a third-quarter profit.

Apple shares rose 6.7 percent to close at 32.5625 yesterday, up 2.0625 over the previous day. The company's previous 52-week high of 31.625 was reached on May 11. The stock has traded as low as 12.75 during the past 52 weeks.

Delivering the keynote speech at Macworld Expo yesterday Jobs said he was "very pleased" to tell the audience that Apple would turn a profit for the third straight quarter in a row.

Apple's prospects for the fourth quarter also look bright, said Mazzucchelli. The company's new consumer desktop that is set to ship next month, the iMac, likely will add $700 million in revenues through the end of the year and bring in hefty profit margins, he said.

The company's stock has climbed steadily since January, when it traded just under 15 a share. This January, Jobs helped boost Apple's stock when he said the computer maker would post a surprise profit of $45 million for its second quarter. The stock jumped 20 percent that day alone.

The shares also spiked during last year's Macworld, when Jobs disclosed that the company had received a $150 million investment from Microsoft. Jobs said yesterday that the Microsoft-Apple alliance is steaming along (See related story).