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Apple raking in the holiday cash, Wall Street analysts say

Three –count them – three investment research firms have concluded this week that Apple faring very well during this holiday shopping season.

This comes as no surprise to those of us who have watched Apple prepare for a very merry Christmas by unleashing the iPhone in June, new iMacs in August, new iPods in September and a new version of Mac OS X, Leopard, in October.

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But let's hear what the experts have to say.

First, Shaw Wu of American Technology Research: "Well, it's looking like Apple's most optimistic guidance in eight quarters is turning out to be conservative after all," the analyst wrote in a report released Wednesday. "Back in October, we had concerns that Apple might have been too aggressive in its outlook, but our recent checks with supply chain sources lead us to believe it is positioned to deliver upside."

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Wu cited strong iPod sales, predicting 25 million units sold, and strong Mac sales, predicting 2.3 million "driven by Mac OS X Leopard and switchers." However, Wu did foresee iPhone sales falling "slightly below" expectations.

Next up, we have Mike Abramsky of RBC Capital. Abramsky sees "a massive Mac Christmas quarter" with shipments of 2.4 million units. That would break the record for Mac sales in a quarter. For calendar year 2008, Abramsky envisions a boost in the Mac's U.S. market share to 9.3 percent from 7.2 percent and global share to 3.7 percent from 3.1 percent.

Finally, Bear Stearns analysts Andrew Neff, Bill Hand and Ted Chung sent a note to clients Thursday raising its AAPL stock price target for 2008 from $243 to $249. The team based its optimism on "favorable feedback from retail channel checks (strength in notebooks, higher iPod sales), feedback from Asia checks (which indicate sequential uptick in Mac units vs. guidance for sequential decline) and strong acceptance of the new Leopard OS."

As for the Christmas, they see the company "well-positioned for the holidays given the confluence of product cycles for Mac (new Mac, low channel inventory, Leopard OS, Best Buy store expansion) and iPod (strong new product acceptance).

In 2008, Bear Stearns sees the Macworld show in January setting the tone for the year (as it often does): "While we're encouraged by AAPL's evolution into a company with multiple growth engines – including our thesis that iPhone is emerging as a personal digital lifestyle device and view that video could be the next big driver – we note that AAPL will need incremental products (e.g., 3G iPhone, ultraportable Mac, other products TBA) in early "08 to buck seasonality issues."

Not coincidentally, a new subnotebook and a 3G iPhone have been two of the hottest Macworld-related rumors on the Web in recent weeks. Jim Goldman of CNBC gave both rumors a major boost on Thursday when he reported that a "source close to some of the Asian manufacturers partnering with Apple Inc." had confirmed the subnotebook for Macworld and the 3G iPhone by June.

Following this onslaught of positive reports (and a decent week on Wall Street), AAPL rose $12.08 for the week, closing at an all-time high of $194.30.

As great as 2007 has been for Apple, is it possible that 2008 will be even better?

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