BofA Merrill, Oppenheimer raise Apple price target

Fri Oct 8, 2010 8:13am EDT

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* Say co may report better-than-expected Q4 gross margins

* iPhones, iPads have tailwinds

* BofA raises price target to $400 from $360

* Oppenheimer ups price target to $345 from $330

Oct 8 (Reuters) - BofA Merrill Lynch and Oppenheimer raised their price targets on Apple's (AAPL.O) shares and said good pricing and forex trends could result in better-than-expected gross margins for the maker of the popular iPhone in the fourth quarter.

Investors will be looking closely at Apple's quarterly sales, as the company, famous for cautious outlook, had projected fourth-quarter revenue exceeding analysts' expectations.

It will announce the quarterly numbers on Oct. 18.

"We believe our gross margin estimate could prove conservative on better than expected component pricing environment and iPad gross margin ramp, particularly in the first quarter of 2011 and beyond," BofA analyst Scott Craig said in a note to clients.

The company expects 35 percent gross margin for the fourth quarter.

The brokerage raised its price target to $400 from $360, and said the market looked strong for iPhones and iPads, and Asia production levels remained very solid.

Oppenheimer, which raised its price target to $345 from $330, said Apple's stock has risen well this year but still lagged the improvement in the company's fundamentals, because of investor concern about Apple's size.

"We think the last 6 months have prepared investors to get over this psychological hump. And we think a blowout September quarter will provide the catalytic push in the rump for an overdue catch-up trade," Oppenheimer analyst Yair Reiner said in a note.

Analysts expect the company to report fourth-quarter profit of $4.04 a share, excluding items, and revenue of $18.83 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Shares of Apple -- which competes with Research in Motion RIM.TO, Nokia (NOK1V.HE) and Microsoft (MSFT.O) in various markets, were trading down modestly in pre-market trade. They closed at $289.22 Thursday on Nasdaq. The company's stock has rallied 15 percent since it reported third-quarter results on July 20. In contrast, Microsoft's shares have declined 4 percent in the same period.

(Reporting by Sayantani Ghosh in Bangalore;)

((sayantani.ghosh@thomsonreuters.com; within U.S. +1 646 223 8780; outside U.S. +91 80 4135 5800; Reuters Messaging: sayantani.ghosh.reuters.com@reuters.net)) Keywords: APPLE/RESEARCH BROKERAGES

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