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China Unlikely Place for Apple to Grow

SAN FRANCISCO -- It's a sign of the current investment malaise that a news article with "iPhone" and "China" in the same headline does little to keep traders from favoring the sell button.

Two years ago, as we were all enjoying the Nasdaq's surge past 2,500 (it's now 1,100 points lower), any suggestion that a company had broken down the door to bring its services and products to the world's largest population was enough to have shareholders dreaming of immediately doubling revenue and profit.

Such is the downside to the global part of the global slowdown.

On Monday, the Web site reported that Apple (AAPL - Get Report) had reached an agreement with China Unicom (CHU - Get Report) to introduce the iPhone 3G device into the Chinese market as early as this May.

The announcement, which hasn't been confirmed by either company, comes after a plethora of reports over the past several months that Apple and China Mobile (CHL) had been trying -- and failing -- to come to a revenue-sharing agreement that would bring the iPhone to the Asian country.

As we recently noted, the iPhone is Apple's only growth product at the moment -- and probably for the foreseeable future.

Most analysts are now expecting the company's Mac computer sales to fall year over year in its March quarter, while the company's iPod music device could see unit sales falling by as much as 8%, according to some estimates.

On Tuesday, Calyon Securities analyst Shebly Seyrafi cut his rating on the stock, as well as his profit estimates for this and the next current fiscal year. He pointed to the trouble that he expects Apple to have amid the decline in PC demand that is seeing a huge move by consumers toward so-called netbooks -- low-fi notebook computers that are cheaper.

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