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Analysts up targets as Apple valuation surpasses Hewlett-Packard

Several Wall Street analysts increased their price targets on shares of Apple Inc. Thursday, following a late-night surge in the gadget makers stock that saw its valuation surpass that of industry heavyweight Hewlett-Packard.

Shares of Apple rose over 7 percent Wednesday in after hours trading on the Nasdaq stock market after the company said third quarter profits rose some 73 percent to $818 million.

The late night surge boosted the iPhone maker's market cap — or perceived public value — to over $127 billion, leapfrogging long-time rival HP, which is valued at approximately $124 billion.

After surpassing Dell's valuation earlier in the year, Apple is now treading on the heels of several other high-tech firms, include Intel ($141 billion) and IBM ($175 billion).

On average, analysts on Wall Street believe Apple shares are poised to gain even further ground in the coming months, with several using research notes on Thursday to increase their 12-month price targets on shares of the Cupertino-based firm.

"We believe bears remain too pessimistic in underestimating Apple's profit potential and ability to generate strong cash flow," said AmTech analyst Shaw Wu, who upped his target to $185 from $165. "Moreover, bears have also underestimated bulls' ability to form more realistic expectations and focused too much on overzealous and sometimes outright irrational estimates."

Over at Pacific Crest, analyst Andy Hargreaves made a similar move in bumping his old $130 target to $175. "Back-to-school sales, expanded distribution and a likely refresh of the iMac product lineup should drive Mac sales growth above 30 percent in fiscal [Q4]," he told clients. "We believe that Apple can continue to drive strong growth in high-margin service and accessory sales, which should benefit gross margin, despite the likely negative impact of rising component costs."

Also commenting on an impending overhaul to the iMac line (as well as full-screen iPods) was Goldman Sachs analyst David Bailey, who increased his Apple price target to $165. "iPhone hype notwithstanding, with the heart of Apple’s product cycle about to begin, we want to stay with the stock," he wrote in a note to clients. "In the September quarter, Apple will finish up a refresh of its entire Mac line-up, rounding it out with a redesigned iMac."

Other firms increasing their price target on Apple shares Thursday included JMP Securities ($160), Caris & Co. ($165), UBS ($175), Credit Suisse ($185), Deutsche Bank ($200), and PiperJaffray ($211).

Shares of Apple retreated only slightly from Wednesday evening's run-up and were trading up 6.75 percent, or $9.27, to $146.53 early Thursday afternoon.