Dec 15 (Reuters) - Goldman Sachs downgraded Apple Inc (AAPL.O) to "neutral" from "buy" on concerns about weak consumer spending in the near-term, and risk of the stock's valuation premium coming down if iPhone sales fall short of expectations in the first half of 2009.
The brokerage, which has a price target of $115 on the stock, removed Apple from its Americas buy list as it expects the company to face a tougher environment in the March and June quarters as consumer demand takes another leg down.
"Shipments of MacBooks, iPod nanos, and iPhone were all slightly lower than what was expected going into the (December) quarter," analyst David Bailey wrote in a note to its clients.
The near-term outlook is not very positive, as it is unlikely that Apple will launch a new product category at the MacWorld conference in early January, taking away a potential catalyst for the shares and causing Apple to try to generate demand in a tough environment without the benefit of a new offering in the first part of 2009, Bailey said.
But the analyst reiterated his longer-term view that Apple's ability to innovate will keep it ahead of the competition and drive share gains in its existing product categories and allow it to be first to market in newer categories like Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs).
Shares of Apple were down more than 2 percent at $96.11 before the bell Monday. They closed at $98.27 Friday on Nasdaq. (Reporting by Shrutika Verma in Bangalore; Editing by Pratish Narayanan)