Apple shares top $600 ahead of iPad launch

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Apple shares briefly soared past $600 for the first time on Wall Street on Thursday, a day ahead of the launch of the next-generation iPad.

Shares of the Cupertino, California-based gadget-maker hit $600.01 shortly after the ringing of the opening bell at 9:30 am (1330 GMT). An hour later, they were trading at $590.12, up 0.09 percent over Wednesday’s close.

Apple shares have gained 57 percent in the past three months and 73 percent over the past year. They were trading at $252.35 on March 16, 2011.

Some analysts are forecasting they will go even higher.

Morgan Stanley pinned a $720 price target on Apple shares while Canaccord Equity aimed at $710.

Apple’s new iPad goes on sale on Friday in the United States and nine other countries including Australia and France. A week later the new iPads will be available in nearly 30 more countries.

It has become standard to see long queues at Apple shops on release dates, and a flood of orders for iPads at firm’s online store indicates the ritual will continue on Friday.

“If pre-orders are any indication, we are going to end up with a heck of a lot of people lined up at the stores,” said Gartner analyst Van Baker.

A key upgrade to the new iPad is eye-grabbing screen resolution on a par with that of the iPhone 4S.

The new iPad also boasts a more powerful processor and the ability to connect to the latest 4G LTE telecom networks that move data faster than their predecessors.

A high-energy launch is vital to Apple, since the tablets are the company’s second-best selling device after iPhones in a wildly successful but extremely narrow product line, Baker said.

Apple’s online shop quickly sold out of iPads available for delivery on Friday and began telling buyers they will have to wait several weeks.

Analysts at Canaccord Genuity predicted Apple will sell 65.6 million iPads this year, raising their forecast by nearly 10 million tablets after the unveiling of the latest model.

“We believe Apple has extended its leadership position in the fast-growing tablet market,” Canaccord Genuity said in a note to investors. “We believe the new iPad has raised the bar relative to competing tablets.”

Apple is offering a 16-gigabyte iPad 2 model for a trimmed price of $399 in a move which “should expand the market for the product as well,” according to NPD analyst Ross Rubin.

New-generation iPads are being sold at the same prices as previous models, which start at $499 for a basic model featuring wireless connectivity only.

Apple reported blockbuster quarterly earnings in January, driven by strong sales of the iPhone 4S, which was released a day before the October 5 death of Apple’s visionary founder Steve Jobs.

Apple’s net profit more than doubled in the first quarter of fiscal 2012 to a record $13.06 billion, while revenue soared to an all-time high of $46.33 billion from $26.74 billion a year ago.

Sent from my iPad 2 – Ť€©ћ№©¶@τ

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