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Apple stock hits record after boost from earnings

Throngs wait outside the Apple store in Munich before the start of sales of the iPad 2 on March 25. The iPhone 4S was also a hot seller in the last quarter.

Apple shares rose to a record after quarterly profit more than doubled as holiday demand for the iPhone and iPad cemented its position as the most valuable technology company.

Apple’s stock gained 6.2 percent to $446.66 on Wednesday, a day after reporting results. Apple’s increase, the company’s biggest one-day rise since May 2010, made it the day’s best performer in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

The company sold 37 million iPhones in the period ended Dec. 31, with customers snapping up the new 4S model that went on sale in October, a week after the death of co-founder Steve Jobs. Record revenue vaulted Apple ahead of Hewlett-Packard Co. as the world’s biggest computer maker by sales and quelled concern that the company’s allure may dim as it embarks on a new era with Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook at the helm.

“The momentum that Steve Jobs created, Tim Cook is maintaining,” Gene Munster, an analyst at Piper Jaffray Cos., said in a televised interview on “Bloomberg West.” “We kind of run out of adjectives to describe this quarter.”

Net income of $13.1 billion in the period that ended Dec. 31 ranked among the highest quarterly profits on record, putting Apple in the same league as energy companies such as Exxon Mobil Corp. and Russia’s Gazprom OAO, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Per-share profit of $13.87 for the period was more than Apple earned in any full year before 2010, as the success of the new iPhone ramped up pressure on rivals Google and Samsung Electronics.

The gain gives Apple a market value of about $416 billion, just below Exxon’s $418 billion. The two companies have been trading places atop the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index since August.

“Look at the Apple numbers – they were stunning,” Alcatel-Lucent CEO Ben Verwaayen said in an interview with Maryam Nemazee on Bloomberg Television’s “Countdown” show at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. “It shows that even in a time of difficult circumstances, if you have the right product and the right focus, you can make a difference.”

Sales rose 73 percent to $46.3 billion in the fiscal first quarter, Apple said Tuesday in a statement. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg on average estimated net income of $10.14 a share on sales of $39 billion.

In looking ahead to the second quarter, Apple forecast revenue of about $32.5 billion and profit of $8.50 per share. That compares with average analysts’ predictions for sales of $31.9 billion and profit of $7.96 per share.

Except for the period that ended in September 2011, when customers put off iPhone purchases in anticipation of the 4S, Apple’s profit has exceeded analysts’ projections in every quarter for at least six years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The quarterly results mark the first time Apple’s revenue topped Hewlett-Packard’s, underscoring how the company’s focus on sleek touch-screen mobile devices has rearranged the technology industry’s pecking order.

Apple’s net income exceeded total revenue at Google, Apple’s largest rival in mobile operating systems, for the period.

“Those numbers are just unimaginable,” said Michael Obuchowski, chief investment officer at First Empire Asset Management, which has $4 billion under management, including Apple shares. “It’s still an extremely well-managed company, and they are showing that the product pipeline is sufficient even now to generate growth rates that are unrivaled.”

Apple wasn’t harmed by Amazon.com’s introduction of the Kindle Fire, a tablet designed to compete against the iPad at less than half the price. Apple sold 15.4 million iPads, topping the 13.5 million projected by analysts.

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