Apple shares near historic $500

Company stock up nearly 22% in 2012, fueled by record earnings, iPhone sales

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By the time you read this, shares of Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) may have topped $500 for the first time.

Apple's stock, of course, has been on an amazing run for years -- shares were trading around $12 exactly 10 years ago -- but its upward climb since New Year's Day has been relentless.

Since closing at 405.00 on the last day of trading in 2011, Apple shares finished trading Thursday at 493.17, up nearly 22% for the year. That's almost twice as good as the Nasdaq, which was up 12.36% this year through Thursday.

In early Friday trading, Apple reached as high as 497.62, so 500.00 is in reach.

Apple's current market capitalization is around $458 billion. As David Leonhardt of the New York Times pointed out Thursday, Apple's market value now exceeds that of Google, Goldman Sachs, GM, Ford, Starbucks and Boeing combined.

It's true: The total current value of those six companies is about $390 billion. But who cares about Starbucks? How big is Apple relative to the tech sector? How about bigger (in terms of market value) than Google ($155 billion) and Microsoft ($258 billion) combined? What the hell, throw in Yahoo ($20 billion), Groupon ($13 billion), Research in Motion ($8 billion) and HP ($6.4 billion) and you still have room for AOL ($1.8 billion)!

Apple's success didn't happen overnight, but there's little doubt it was the iPhone and iPad that propelled it into a different league. Look at the company's annual revenue for the past 10 years, keeping in mind that the iPhone debuted halfway through 2007, the iPad in spring 2010. Revenue figures are in billions. Percentage growth over previous year is in parenthesis.

2002 -- $5.74
2003 -- $6.21 (8.2%)
2004 -- $8.28 (33.3%)
2005 -- $13.93 (68.2%)
2006 -- $19.32 (38.7%)
2007 -- $24.01 (24.3%)
2008 -- $32.48 (35.3%)
2009 -- $42.91 (32.1%)
2010 -- $65.23 (52.0%)
2011 -- $108.25 (66.0%)

In terms of revenue growth, clearly Apple hasn't had a bad year in at least a decade. With the continued success of the iPhone and the iPad's dominance of the nascent but potentially huge tablet market, that's not changing in the foreseeable future.

Indeed, Apple's fiscal 2012 first-quarter numbers released last month put the company on track for more than $170 billion in revenue. First-quarter sales were up 73% from last year to $46.33 billion, thanks in large part to the sale of 37.04 million iPhones, more than double the 16.24 million sold in Q1 2011. iPad sales also more than doubled to 15.43 million from 7.33 million.

Further, Apple will be releasing the iPad 3 into a market that so far has been underwhelmed by tablets made by other manufacturers. Not only should Apple sell iPads to current owners who want the latest device, but also to prospective tablet owners who might be ready to give up waiting for someone else to deliver a tablet that rivals the iPad.

Apple's guidance for Q2 calls for revenue of $32.5 billion, but the company is famous for low-balling its forecasts.

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