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Oppenheimer Upgrades Applied Materials to 'Neutral'

Applied Materials (AMAT) posted first-quarter earnings per share of 12 cents (before a 7-cent restructuring charge), vs. breakeven results a year ago, on a 48% sales rise. Oppenheimer upgraded the stock to neutral from sell.

Analyst Gerald Fleming tells S&P MarketScope the upgrade is based on the company's extremely strong Asian sales outlook. He says bookings were led by total Asian bookings of 71%. Management notes that assuming worldwide economic activity remains strong, consumer-led recovery should be augmented by rising IT spending, and improved unit demand for cell phones and personal computers.

He notes equipment stocks historically traded on order momentum, and he believes that the company could trade higher in the near term based on anticipated order gains.

Fleming raised his EPS forecasts from 51 cents to 79 cents for fiscal year 2004 (October) and from $1.00 to $1.18 for fiscal 2005. He ups his $18 price target to $22.

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