Apple seems set to "significantly exceed prior sales guidance" in its first quarter, analysts say.

Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB) this afternoon significantly raised its target price for Apple, from $40 to $70.

The analysts described Apple's iPod as "this season's hottest consumer electronics product", and the iMac refresh as justification for its claims.

While maintaining its 'neutral' assessment of the company's stock, CSFB said that an "apparent vindication of the halo efefct (of iPod sales) will continue to drive strength in the stock during the seasonally-strongest first period of the year".

CSFB predicts first quarter sales of $3.3 billion. Apple had predicted between $2.8 and $2.9 billion. "We believe Apple will ship 4.8 million iPods in the quarter", the analysts said, predicting a full order book to cushion Apple's second quarter.

They also expect hard drive availability problems to be solved in the first quarter 2005.