Katheryn ("Katy") Huberty, Morgan Stanley's chief Apple analyst, met recently with three of Steve Jobs' top lieutenants: Peter Oppenheimer, the money man; Ron Johnson, the former Target exec who built the Apple Stores; and Eddy Cue, the senior vice president in charge of Internet services.
Apparently no company secrets were revealed. The Apple execs would not confirm that the next iPhone launch has been pushed back to September, and they seem to have talked in only the broadest terms about expanding iPhone penetration (from 90 countries and 185 carriers today), building more and larger stores (up to 50 per year) and following a product cycle that's driven more by software than hardware (major iOS feature update in June?).
Still, Huberty came away more bullish on Apple (aapl) than ever, judging from the note to clients she issued Thursday, with "increasing confidence" in a bull case scenario in which iPhone sales grow 55% per year over the next two years, iPad sales grow 74%, Macs grow 17% and the stock hits $540, up 54% from Wednesday's close of $349.57.
Her base-case target, $428 per share (up $18 from March), assumes that Apple sells 72 million iPhones in 2011 and 30 million iPads, with Mac unit sales growing three times as fast as the PC market. She's also got a $270/share "bear case," in which unit sales barely meet Wall Street's expectations (65 million iPhones, 25 million iPads) and traders remain obsessed with Steve Jobs' medical leave.
But she's not buying it: "We believe AAPL shares discount a significant deceleration in top-line growth that is unjustified in light of several long-term growth drivers."
These include, according to Huberty:
1. LTE iPhone upgrade cycle and lower priced 3G iPhone in 2012
2. Larger tablet market and continued Apple market dominance longer-term
3. Expanding distribution in China
4. Potential for Apple to enter the Smart TV market in 2012-13.
Huberty's three cases:
Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped.