Apple stock tops $700

September 18, 2012: 4:27 PM ET
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NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

Apple's stock hit a new high and closed above $700 for the first time Tuesday, marking yet another milestone for a company that has had plenty of them this year.

The stock finished at $701.91, after hitting a high of $702.33 earlier in the afternoon.

The tech giant's stock has risen sharply in the past few weeks in anticipation of the iPhone 5 announcement. The smartphone's unveiling last Wednesday impressed consumers and investors alike: The company raked in a record 2 million pre-orders in the first 24 hours, double the 1 million first-day orders recorded last year by the iPhone 4S.

"Demand for the iPhone 5 seems to be living up to the highest of expectations," said Andy Hargreaves, an analyst with Pacific Crest Capital. "The product itself is really, really good, and I wouldn't be surprised to see more demand than supply through the December quarter."

While Hargreave's current price target on the stock still stands at $690, he said the recent move upward is justified, and Apple's upcoming earnings will support the momentum.

Last month, Apple (AAPL) became the most valuable company of all time when its market capitalization soared past $619 billion -- the record Microsoft (MSFT) had held since December 1999. Apple's market cap is now nearly $658 billion.

With new gadgets on the horizon, including the iPhone 5, the new iPad, and yet-to-be-announced gizmos like the iPad mini and a long-awaited Apple TV update, Apple has crossed the $400 billion, $500 billion and $600 billion marks -- all in 2012 -- as the stock has soared 80% this year.

The astronomical rise isn't entirely without merit. Apple's iPhone business alone now brings in more money than Microsoft. Even the iPad, which was intended to be a gap-filling product between the iPhone and the Macintosh, has itself become a multi-billion dollar product for Apple.

Analysts scramble to keep their targets ahead of Apple's price

Yet, some caution that the stock is rising too quickly and is in danger of becoming overvalued.

Apple's stock is now trading at 16 times fiscal 2013 earnings estimates, which isn't all that expensive compared to some other tech companies with wild triple-digit price-to-earnings ratios, such as Amazon (AMZN) and Facebook (FB).

But its share price has been outpacing earnings expectations by a long shot -- shares were trading at 12 times future earnings forecasts as recently as February.

What Apple didn't unveil at iPhone 5 event

And investors are being rewarded. Apple has been putting its $117 billion in cash to good use, paying out a sizable dividend to shareholders.

So, how much higher can Apple's stock soar? Much will likely depend on the success of future products. But with a lineup that is expected to smash through more sales records, support for Apple's stock sees no signs of letting up.

In fact, Wall Street's most optimistic Apple analyst is predicting the stock to blow past $1,000 per share during the next year.

"We went into the iPhone 5 launch with high expectations, but even those were exceeded," said Brian White, analyst at Topeka Capital Markets, whose Apple stock target stands at $1,111. White was expecting pre-orders for the new device to come in between 1.3 million and 1.5 million.

Based on the initial success, White forecasts that the iPhone 5 will help boost Apple's worldwide smartphone market share from 17% to the mid-20% level.

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