Apple analysts upgrade unit sales estimates, target price

Strong holiday purchases, upcoming Verizon iPhone fuel widespread optimism

Impressed by reported better-than-expected holiday sales and expecting big things from Verizon's pending introduction of the iPhone, several analysts who cover Apple for investors this week have bumped up their performance estimates and share-price targets.

As Fortune's Apple 2.0 blogger Philip Elmer-DeWitt points out, Apple analysts typically revise estimates right before the company announces quarterly earnings. Apple's fiscal 2011 first-quarter earnings won't be reported until the third week in January, but apparently analysts just couldn't wait because iPad and iPhone sales appear to be going through the roof. Here are some of the Wall Street revisions for Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL): Kaufman Bros. raises Q1 sales estimates to $24.17 billion from $23.05, a jump of nearly 5 percent. Kaufman analyst Shaw Wu raised his share target price to $395 from $380, maintaining a Buy rating. Apple currently trades around $321. Apple's revenue guidance for Q1 is $23 billion. Mark Moskowitz of JP Morgan set a new price target of $420, up from $390 set in July. He also increased estimated Q1 iPad sales to 6.71 million from 5.44 million, or 23 percent. But Moskowitz sees more than Apple's tablet and smartphone driving growth. In a note to investors reported by Apple Insider, he wrote, "While the iPhone and iPad are expected to be the biggest contributors to revenue growth in the near to mid term, the Mac business is expected to be an important contributor as well. By the end of (fiscal year) 2011, we expect the Mac to regain prominence in the Apple growth story as the company addresses the multi-billion dollar opportunity in the Target Zone of PCs." In addition to upping revenue estimates, several analysts upgraded their forecasts for earnings per share, with Matthew Hoffman of Cowan & Co. logging the most optimistic revision, to 5.32 a share from 5.00, which would be a gain of 6.4 percent. Apple has estimated Q1 EPS of $4.80.

Chris Nerney writes about the business side of technology market strategies and trends, legal issues, leadership changes, mergers, venture capital, IPOs and technology stocks. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisNerney.

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