The Piper Jaffray analyst who follows Apple Computer said there's some credence to speculation that the company may introduce a $500 iMac computer. "Several Mac rumor sites" say...

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The Piper Jaffray analyst who follows Apple Computer said there’s some credence to speculation that the company may introduce a $500 iMac computer.

“Several Mac rumor sites” say Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple may unveil the new personal computer at its Macworld trade show Jan. 11, analyst Gene Munster in Minneapolis said. Apple’s best-selling iPod digital music player has boosted interest in the company, and people who typically buy PCs from competitors may be more likely to buy an Apple system than before, he said.

There’s a better than 50 percent chance the speculation is accurate, Munster said in an interview yesterday. Apple spokesman Steve Dowling declined to comment.

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“It’s exactly what they should do,” said Munster, who rates the shares “outperform” and doesn’t own them. “This is a dramatically lower price point than they’ve ever been at.”

Apple shares have more than tripled this year, making them the second-best performers in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index behind Autodesk. Munster last month said the shares would climb to $100 within a year after a Piper Jaffray survey found that 13 percent of iPod users who formerly bought other PC brands had purchased a Macintosh or planned to within a year.

A $500 iMac would accelerate that movement, he said.

Apple shares rose 36 cents to $64.80 yesterday.

The iMac would still be more expensive than low-end PCs made by competitors such as Dell, Munster said. The eMac, built for students, starts at $799 and is Apple’s lowest-priced computer, according to the company’s Web site. That machine includes a display. The low-priced iMac probably would not, Munster said.

Profits from a low-priced iMac would likely be lower than the company’s overall gross margin of 27 percent, Shaw Wu, an analyst at American Technology Research in San Francisco, wrote in a note to clients yesterday. The new computer would likely sell for $599 to $699, excluding a monitor, and be shaped like a pizza box, Wu wrote, without saying where he obtained the information.

“We do not have a firm read on timing, but we do believe that such a product/project is in development,” Wu wrote.

Dell, the world’s largest PC maker, sells some systems with monitors for $440, according to the company’s Web site. No. 2 PC-maker Hewlett-Packard’s site sells them with no monitor for $399 after a rebate.

Speculation about the $500 iMac probably began at a site dedicated to Apple news called ThinkSecret.com, Munster said.