Santa arrived early for Apple Inc. shareholders: The stock surged $6.94, or 3.4%, on Thursday to close at a record high of $209.04. That topped the previous closing high of $207 on Nov. 17.
The buzz continues to build about the company's widely anticipated -- albeit unconfirmed -- tablet computer. The Financial Times reported that Apple has rented a stage at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco in late January, most likely for a product announcement.
An Apple tablet, which some speculate might be called the "iPad," is expected to be a cross between the iPhone, with its touch-sensitive screen and numerous useful applications, and the Amazon Kindle reading device, with its much larger screen.
But as the Financial Times notes, "Apple has explored making tablet style devices for years, only to back off. The company also has a history of scrapping products very close to their scheduled launch dates."
But Apple stock bulls, who haven't been held back much by such caveats, figure something good is coming in January. The shares now are up a massive 145% year to date, more than making up for their plunge in the market meltdown of 2008.
A share of Apple now costs about 27 times the average analyst forecast of the company's earnings per share for the fiscal year that ends next September.
That's expensive relative to the Standard & Poor's 500 index's average price-to-earnings ratio of about 15 based on 2010 earnings estimates.
But it's a far cry from the P/Es of tech's bubble days of the late 1990s.
Apple's stock market value now is $188 billion, which tops IBM Corp. ($171 billion), General Electric Co. ($164 billion) and Chevron Corp. ($155 billion), among others, and is closing in on Google Inc. ($196 billion) and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. ($204 billion).
Besides the hype over the tablet, Apple is benefiting from Wall Street's strong appetite for tech stocks in general in 2009.
And in a year like this, the rich tend to get richer as the calendar runs out: Some money managers are probably buying hot tech stocks to dress up their portfolios for year-end statements to clients.
Other tech issues hitting new 52-week highs Thursday: Google, Microsoft Corp., IBM and Xilinx Inc.
Year to date, the tech-dominated Nasdaq is up 45% to the S&P's 25% gain.