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    Default Apple's market capitalisation hits $600 bn for the first time

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    Marking another milestone under its belt, tech giant Apple's market capitalisation hit over the $600 billion mark for the first time on Tuesday following continued enthusiasm for the company's shares.

    Only one other company has been worth $600 billion - Apple's old sparring partner Microsoft Corp. It reached that valuation for 13 trading days around the turn of the millennium, at the peak of the technology stock mania.

    At its highest level, on December 30, 1999, Microsoft's valuation was $619 billion. It's now worth about $255 billion.

    General Electric Co. came just short of reaching a $600 billion valuation in August 2000.

    Apple shares hit $644 in morning trading, up 1.2 per cent from Monday's close. At that price, the entire company was worth $600.4 billion. By midday, the shares had retreated. The stock closed at $628.44, down 1.2 per cent from the day before, putting the value below $600 billion again.

    Apple's stock is up nearly 60 per cent since the start of the year , an indication that investors are catching up to what analysts have been saying for a while: Despite its enormous market capitalisation, Apple's stock has been undervalued relative to its even more enormous profits.

    The rally has also been fuelled by the report of another blow-out holiday quarter, and the announcement that Apple will start putting its $97.6 billion cash hoard to use this summer by paying a dividend and buying back shares.

    Apple's market capitalisation hit $500 billion on February 29. That, in itself, was a rare achievement: Only five other US companies have ever been worth that much.

    Apple's market capitalisation is still well below Microsoft's 1999 record if inflation is taken into account. The $619 billion then becomes $846 billion.

    Many analysts believe Apple can get there , though. Last week, Brian White of Topeka Capital Markets was the first to set a stock price target of more than $800, with a goal of $1,001. That target implies a market capitalization of $932 billion.

    White believes Apple will expand its reach this year by starting to sell the iPhone through China Mobile, that country's largest phone company, and by launching a TV set. Apple hasn't confirmed either piece of speculation.



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