Will it or Won't It? Apple Teeters at $200


Let the rally begin for Apple. Again!

The company's stock crossed $200 per share Wednesday, but settled back. Today, a kind of two-steps-forward-one-step-back approach, as Apple blows through $200 with a lot more conviction. Will it finally close above the psychologically -- and financially -- important plateau?

Most of the Apple watchers I talk to say achieving this level was just a matter of time, with some surprised it took this long. The naysayers say Apple's gains are getting way too ahead of themselves: that euphoria is replacing reason and that Apple bulls risk stampeding themselves.

I'm not so sure about that.

Simple history shows that in the weeks leading up to Macworld, Apple shares kick themselves into a new gear and rack up big-time gains. It's just that this year, Apple was already seeing tremendous momentum earlier -- which makes the gains since Nov. all the more jaw-dropping.

To wit: Last year, Apple shares jumped 22% between Nov. 1, 2006 and the day after Macworld last January. In the same time period from 2005 and 2006, Apple shares gained 46%. This time around, Apple is under-performing its history, rising only about 6%.

But if you take the company's gains from their low on Nov. 12, Apple is up a big 29%. Still below its historical average -- and that's leading some to think that an even more significant rally in these shares lies ahead.

The fact is, Apple's product pipeline continues to churn new revenue streams. This holiday shopping season, its MacBook laptop was one of Amazon.com's best sellers. Five of the top 10 electronics products on Amazon were iPods.

That's the good news.

But there is some ammunition for those who say Apple's gains are too much, too fast. The company's $175 billion market cap exceeds those of Hewlett-Packard , Intel , IBM , and Cisco .

Troy Wolverton at the San Jose Mercury News points out this morning that Apple's market cap is all the more overwhelming, when you consider its sales are a quarter of HP's and IBM's, and its earnings are less than half those of Intel and Cisco.

But this is all about outlook and where the company goes from here. And if you look at the slimmer laptops on the way, the new 3G iPhones and new iPods, Apple's growth ahead seems to more than justify such lofty shares. None of the companies whose market caps Apple has eclipsed can boast such an outlook.

And even in the face of stiff competition from Blackberry maker Research in Motion -- and even purported pictures of the new Google Gphone making the rounds once again -- Apple has been able to excel. Its last earnings report was an eye-opener: revenue, earnings and margin acceleration in the face of such strong competition.

Its December earnings will determine whether this stock is worth the $200 per share, or whether investors weeks from now will look back on the plateau, longing for the day when Apple shares were that affordable.

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