Analyst Maintains 'Neutral' AAPL Rating After Mixed Consumer Survey

SG Cowen & Co. analyst Richard Chu on Tuesday issued a new research report that offered results from his latest survey of more than 1,000 U.S. consumers, revealing strong long-term Mac prospects but weak overall MP3 player demand. "That is enough of a caveat to keep us on the sidelines on the stock and we maintain Neutral rating," he wrote.

Among survey respondents, 93.2% were considered Windows-centric, which means they have only Windows computers (88.8%) or they have Macs too but consider the Windows machines the primary ones (4.4%). Three percent were Mac-only while 1.3% had a Windows/Mac mix but considered the Mac their primary computer. While 50% of the respondents have no plans to buy a new computer in the next 12 to 18 months, only Apple and HP/Comaq registered gains among those who are going to buy a new machine and knew which brand they wanted. Appleis gain was even higher on the laptop side.

In addition, when looking at Windows-centric households considering or planning to buy a new computer in the next 12 to 18 months, 9% of respondents who own an iPod are looking at purchasing a Mac, versus 2.8% of the respondents who donit own an iPod. Mr. Chu saw that as indication that the halo effect is a continuing phenomenon.

"However," he wrote, "as the percentage of the installed base (in our survey as well as in the real world) owning iPods increases dramatically, the usefulness of iPod ownership (or non ownership) as a discriminant variable diminishes."

Meanwhile, the move to Intel processors seems to currently have little effect on consumers, as 8.2% of the respondents said it will make them more likely to buy a Mac, versus 14.8% when the same survey was conducted last October. The "No impact" category jumped from 63.8% to 76.4%. "Thus, with the passage of time, it would appear that the mind share benefits associated with the iIntel haloi may be diminishing," Mr. Chu explained.

While the survey was launched before Apple released the Beta of Boot Camp, the analyst was able to go back and get responses from roughly half of them regarding the new software. Not only was awareness of the new feature high, but 20% of the overall respondents said that it will make them more likely to buy a Mac. Mr. Chu wrote: "We think the survey provides definite empirical evidence that this dual OS (or, prospective, an iOS virtualizationi capability) implied by Bootcamp can only be viewed as a strategic positive for Apple."

MP3 Player Demand Down, But iPod Interest Remains Strong

On the MP3 player side of the fence, 42% of the respondents said their household owns an MP3 player, up from 37% last October, and 25% of them said it was an iPod, which was a 6% increase from the last survey. However, only 11.9% of respondents said they will buy a new MP3 player in the next 12 to 18 months, down from 15.5% last October. 64.1% had no plans, up from 56.4% last October. That slowdown was evident when looking at households already owning MP3 players as well as households that donit currently have one.

However, the iPod continued to be a strong brand among those who will buy or are thinking about buying another MP3 player, with 57% of those respondents naming it and 18% mentioning other brands. 25% were unsure. Interestingly, 85.1% of the overall respondents said that the introduction of MP3 playback in cell phones had no impact on their interest in such functionality, while 52% said they werenit at all interested in an MP3 player that could play video. 80% said their household has no plan to buy a portable digital video player in the next 12 to 18 months.

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