Apple: $500 A Share Now Solidly Behind It, $550 Target Up Ahead

Oct.18.13 | About: Apple Inc. (AAPL)

That was quick! Late last week I penned an article when Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) was trading in the low $480's. I postulated that due to its recent momentum and positive catalysts the stock would soon put $500 a share in the rearview mirror. This rise happened a bit faster than I thought it would and of this writing AAPL is trading for a solid $508 a share.

So what's next? I think the $500 level could provide somewhat of a near term support level and with the company continuing to garner positive analyst comments & upgrades and other catalysts the shares seem poised to challenge $550 a share by the end of year. This would approximate a midpoint between its all-time high of $705 a share in mid-September 2012 and its lows in the $380's earlier this summer.

Just since my article ran last week, the company has picked up some more positive catalysts. First Apple announced the current CEO of Burberry (OTCPK:BURBY), Angela Ahrendts, will be joining the company in the newly created position of Senior VP of Retail & Online Stores. Ahrendts was extremely well thought of at the British luxury brand where she tripled sales and quadrupled the stock price during her tenure. Burberry stock fell some 7% in the day of the announcement reflect how well investors thought of her leadership. Ms. Ahrendts should also bring much needed leadership to Apple's retail stores which have been adrift since Ron Johnson left for J.C. Penney (NYSE:JCP).

Second, consensus earnings estimates continue for FY2014 continue to increase as result of solid sales from the launch of the new 5C & 5S iPhones. Since the time of the launch last month, the consensus estimate for next fiscal year has increased from ~$42.40 a share to a current $43.12 a share according to Yahoo Finance. Expect those estimates to keep rising through the next month as sales of the 5S continue to beat expectations by a good margin.

A good confirmation of this solid growth came via the earnings report of Verizon (NYSE:VZ) this week and shows how dominant Apple continues to be in the domestic smartphone space. The Telecom giant reported that 51% of its Q3 smartphone activations came from the iPhone, up from 43% in Q2 and 46% a year ago even though the 5S/5C arrived late in the quarter and the 5S was supply-constrained. iPhone activations were up 25% Y/Y. Look for more impressive data on Apple's U.S. dominance when AT&T (NYSE:T) reports early next week.

Next week Apple will have an event to launch the new version of the iPad and the new MacBook Pros will go on sale by next weekend. In addition, there is still the huge deal with China Mobile (NYSE:CHL) that I continue to believe will be announced by the end of the year, probably by early November so both firms can benefit from holiday sales. In short, the giant from Cupertino is hitting on all cylinders right now.

Despite quickly moving from the low $380's to over $500 a share over the last few months, AAPL is still extremely cheap. The shares sell for 8.25 forward earnings once one subtracts the company's over $140B in cash & short term investments on its balance sheet. This is significantly below its five year average (15.8). Slapping just a 9x forward earnings multiple on Apple gets us roughly to my yearend price target of $550 a share. However, it would not surprise me given the company's recent momentum that $550 comes in November probably on the back of the China Mobile deal; a happy holiday thought for Apple shareholders. STRONG BUY

Disclosure: I am long AAPL. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.