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AAPL a big winner for Ebeling Heffernan followers

|Includes: Apple Inc. (AAPL)

Several weeks ago we issued a strong buy rating on AAPL with a $200 price target, today AAPL passed our short term target, our long term target is $260.

Apple Inc. shares neared their all-time high Tuesday as investors reacted positively to the company’s strong fourth-quarter earnings report that included a 46% rise in earnings due to better-than-expected sales of iPhones, Mac computers and iPods.

Apple /quotes/comstock/15*!aapl/quotes/nls/aapl (AAPL 200.40, +10.54, +5.55%) shares rose $10.84, or almost 6%, to $200.59 after the company’s late Monday earnings report in which the company said it earned $1.67 billion, or $1.82 a share, on revenue of $9.87 billion.

During the same period a year ago, Apple earned $1.14 billion, or $1.26 a share, on $7.9 billion in sales.

Apple’s results also topped the estimates of analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters, who had forecast the company to earn $1.42 a share on revenue of $9.2 billion.

“The Apple ecosystem continues to build momentum,” said Brian Marshall, an analyst with Broadpoint AmTech. “We see no reason why Apple’s growth would decelerate in the near term.”

Marshall holds a buy rating on Apple’s stock and raised his price target to $235 a share from $210.

Whatever concerns about the economy remain, there seemed to be little impact over the last three months on Apple’s largely consumer-driven business.

Apple sold 7.4 million iPhones in the quarter ended Sept. 26. It was the first full quarter of sales for the iPhone 3GS, Apple’s latest version of its touchscreen smartphone that starts at $199. Analysts were expecting iPhone sales of 7 million, on average.

Apple also said it sold more than 3 million Macs during the quarter, thanks in part to the back-to-school selling season. Mac shipments increased by 17%.

Analysts had been expecting Mac sales of 2.8 million. During the quarter, Apple released Snow Leopard, the latest upgrade to its Mac operating system.

“It was a strong, strong quarter,” said Shaw Wu, who covers Apple for Kaufman Bros. “[The] big upside was driven by Macs and iPhones. This was amazing despite very high expectations, and we’re still in the middle of a recession.”

The company said it sold 10.2 million iPods, which was an 8% decline in shipments from the year-ago period. Yet those results still exceeded the 10-million shipment figure expected from many Wall Street analysts.

Gross margins as a percentage of revenue climbed to 36.6% from 34.7% in the same quarter last year.