"It's all selling well. We can't replenish the stock fast enough."
A look around the store confirmed the employee's comments in response to my question about how business was faring. I counted nearly 30 of his colleagues helping throngs of people parked in front of every counter.
That was the scene at my local Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) store two days before Christmas. And one look at the company's share price suggests that it's a scene replicated at hundreds of other Apple stores across the United States and abroad.
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When I last wrote about Apple on August 21, 2009, shares of the consumer electronics giant were trading for about $169. If you bought the stock back then, you'd currently be sitting on a 25% gain. And if you bought the stock this time last year, you'd have a massive 129% gain.
That's one in the eye for the naysayers, who claim, "Apple can't possibly continue like this forever," and cite the latest "iPhone killers" from the company's rivals.
But Apple continues to roll on - and roll over its competition.
How does the firm do it? And what's next for Steve Jobs' brainchild?
The earnings king is ready to crush estimates again
It's well-known that Apple has a wide range of flashy products. But as my colleague Alexander Green says: "In the end, it's all about earnings, earnings, earnings."
Thanks to the strength and popularity of Apple's products, it continues to deliver consistent top-line revenue growth and bottom-line earnings growth - despite predictions to the contrary and an economy in the doldrums.
But if you think Apple's performance over the first three quarters of 2009 was impressive, just wait until it releases its full-year results in a few weeks.
Apple will crush the estimates once again - and there are three reasons for it...
Why Apple's shares are going to blast even higher
The primary reason for a continued surge in Apple shares is simple: Business is booming - and is set to remain that way.
Apple is enjoying strength in all three of its products lines - the Mac, iPod and, in particular, the iPhone.
iPhone: This product alone could pump as much as $20bn in revenue to Apple's top-line this year, thanks to the end of some exclusive carrier agreements in markets such as the UK and Canada, plus strong early sales in Korea and China. The company also just surpassed the three billion mark for application downloads.
Mac: The opportunities for Apple in the computer space are huge, since the firm has such a small percentage of the overall market. Look for continued growth here, with the new larger-screen iMacs selling well above analysts' expectations. In fact, December sales could top the 700,000 mark, according to Thomas Weisel Partners analyst, Doug Reid.
iPod: The top two technology products this Christmas were the iPhone and iPod. Applications for the iPhone and iPod Touch now total more than 100,000. Compare that to just 16,000 for Google's Android device, and a paltry 1,000 for Palm (Nasdaq: PALM) phones. Apple's implementation of the classic razor/razor blade model is second to none in the technology space.
Kaufman Brothers recently raised its price target for Apple shares to $253. And Macquarie Research also has a $250 price target on Apple, with Managing Director Phil Cusick saying the company could grow its revenue by 25% in 2010.
Here are two more reasons for Apple's continued success...
This accounting rule change could boost Apple's upfront revenues
Despite its mammoth revenues, would you believe that Apple has never been able to recognize all the revenue it initially receives for an iPhone sale in the quarter in which it was sold?
That's because under certain GAAP rules, Apple has to spread its iPhone revenue over eight quarters (the expected lifetime of the product). And while earnings growth is still excellent, this rule has kept revenue lower than it would be if it were all recognized in the quarter in which it was booked.
But that could change with this quarter's earnings announcement. In September 2009, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) approved an accounting change that would allow technology companies like Apple to credit more of the revenue to its results upfront.
The 'iTablet': coming to a store near you in March
As you may have seen in the news recently, Apple is set to launch its newest snazzy product in March.
Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal leaked a story that it will be an all-encompassing device that will feature many of the company's existing products in one place.
While it doesn't have an official name yet, the media is calling it a "tablet," with more than one vendor asked to produce one million of them per month from March. But if this new gadget is anywhere close to being as game-changing as the iPhone, you can bet that number will rise.
I think these three reasons are enough for you to consider adding a few Apple shares to your long-term investment portfolio. It's the greatest consumer electronics company in the world. And one of the fastest-growing ones, too - a trend that I expect for a long time.
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