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TechWeek: An Appetite for NetApp

When Network Appliance (NTAP) ratcheted down its guidance in early August, plenty of investors took the network storage company off the radar screen. But that's changing fast.

Shares have run up nearly 30% since early October -- five times more than the Nasdaq -- and the company's charts indicate that there's still upside, says Rob Funk, of RGF Capital Partners, a New York-based hedge fund.

Funk, who doesn't hold NetApp at the moment, notes that the 50-day moving average is trending up and more importantly, the downtrend that started in mid-December of 2004 has been broken. As a short-term buy, it's a little pricey at $30. Funk would like an entry point of about $28. But as a longer-term play, it looks very good, he says.

If investors needed more convincing, they got it in the shape of this week's solid second-quarter earnings announcement . "NetApp surprised us by bouncing back from last quarter's miss as quickly and as strongly as it did, making the stock that much more attractive, even at current levels, for momentum investors seeking one of tech's highest organic growth rate companies," Goldman Sachs hardware maven Laura Conigliaro said in a note to clients.

Indeed, NetApp grew revenue by nearly 29% in the September quarter, while rivals EMC (EMC) grew 16.5% and Hitachi Data Systems 24.7%. Of course NetApp is growing on a much smaller base. A year ago, NetApp posted revenue of $375.2 million, while EMC's revenue was a bit more than $2 billion.

However, Conigliaro, whose firm has banking relationships with NetApp and EMC, has some concerns about valuation; the stock is trading at 30 times 2006 earnings estimates -- or 43 times when the cost of expensing options is included. She also notes that NetApp and EMC "could be on a collision course."

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