Last updated: February 13, 2012 11:42 pm

Apple shares reach $500 milestone

Apple shares hit $500 for the first time on Monday, taking the market capitalisation of the world’s largest public company to more than $468bn.

Apple’s shares have risen 24 per cent this year after blockbuster fourth-quarter results and record sales of iPads, iPhones and MacBooks. Apple now represents 1.9 per cent of the MSCI World stock market index and 3.8 per cent of the S&P 500.

Since the S&P 500 closed at 1,363.61 points on April 29 last year, its highest level since the financial crisis, Apple shares have climbed 44 per cent against a 1 per cent fall for the S&P 500.

The technology group’s success has also given a healthy glow to corporate America. Were Apple’s results stripped out, Barclays Capital estimates earnings growth at S&P 500 companies that have reported fourth-quarter results would be 2.9 per cent rather than 7 per cent.

“It’s hard to overstate the importance of Apple to the earnings picture,” said Barry Knapp, chief US equity strategist at Barclays Capital. “Its performance masks broader trends that suggest margins might have peaked for US corporates. On the other hand, the wealth creation impact for US investors is very real.”

Sentiment towards the stock was clear from investor reaction at last week’s Columbia Investment Management Conference in New York, where Apple’s appeal as a value stock was repeatedly discussed. For the sector as a whole, the shares are cheap relative to the company’s earnings.

A year ago panellist Will Danoff, manager of a growth stock fund for Fidelity, was subject to barely concealed ridicule from the crowd when he described Apple as his top value pick.

Bill Miller, a value investor who made his reputation in part by backing technology stocks in the late 1990s, believes that Apple’s rapid sales growth will continue. The tech company is also the largest holding of David Einhorn’s Greenlight Capital.

Greenlight first purchased Apple stock at $6, but sold it at $8. It was at $248 when the fund began purchasing shares again in 2010, according to a letter sent to Greenlight investors that year.

Apple shares closed at $502.60, a gain of 1.9 per cent for the day.

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