Apple shares soar after blockbuster profit

Apple shares have soared following blockbuster quarterly earnings and the California gadget-maker leapfrogged over ExxonMobil to become the largest US company in terms of market value.

Apple shares were up 6.37 per cent at $US447.20 in mid-day trading on Wall Street, giving the maker of the iPhone, iPad, iPod and Macintosh computer a market capitalisation of $414.52 billion.

ExxonMobil shares were down 0.92 per cent at $86.38.

The oil giant's market cap - the number of shares outstanding multiplied by the stock price - stood at $411.45 billion.

Apple first surpassed ExxonMobil in market value in August of last year and the two companies have been jockeying back and forth since then.

Apple dethroned US software giant Microsoft in May 2010 to become the largest US technology company in terms of market cap.

Apple stock has risen steadily over the past few years on the release of a string of hit products starting with the iPod in 2001, followed by the iPhone in 2007 and the iPad in 2010.

Apple reported record earnings on Tuesday, 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 $US13.06 billion while revenue soared to an all-time high of $46.33 billion from $26.74 billion a year ago.

Summing up the general sentiment, investment bank RBC Capital Markets spoke of "iDomination."

Apple said it sold 37.04 million iPhones in the quarter which ended on December 31, up 128 per cent from a year ago, and 15.43 million iPads, a 111 per cent increase.

Apple sold 5.2 million Macintosh computers in the quarter, up 26 per cent, and 15.4 million iPods, a 21 per cent decline from a year ago.

Technology market research firm Gartner said that combining Macintosh and iPad sales, Apple sold 20.6 computers between October and December - more than the estimated 14.7 million PCs sold by Hewlett-Packard during the same period.

Apple also said it ended the quarter with a cash pile of $97.6 billion, prompting Canaccord Genuity technology analyst Michael Walkley to speculate that the company may declare a dividend.

"We believe Apple is likely to announce a dividend during 2012, potentially next quarter when crossing $100 billion in cash and cash equivalents," Walkley said.

"We believe Apple is well positioned for very strong 2012-13 sales and earnings growth driven by new product introductions, including the pending refresh of MacBook Air, the iPad 3 launching this spring, an LTE iPhone likely in the third quarter of 2012 and potentially Apple TV exiting 2012," he added.

Walkley also raised his price target for Apple shares to $650 from $560.

The death of Steve Jobs has sparked endless speculation about whether Apple's engineers will be able to continue to churn out the hits in his absence.

Tim Cook, who took over as Apple chief executive from an ailing Jobs in August, made it clear on Tuesday that he believes they can.

"Apple's momentum is incredibly strong, and we have some amazing new products in the pipeline," Cook said.

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