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Apple 'now visible in Microsoft's rearview mirror' as value swells

With Apple's annual revenue more than doubling since 2005, a new analysis looks at the possibility of the Mac maker surpassing its chief rival, Microsoft, as the world's most valuable technology company.

Gabriel Madway with Reuters offered a look at Apple's astounding growth, which has caused the Cupertino, Calif., company's market value to surge to $180 billion. Microsoft remains much larger, with a $250 billion market cap, but it is Apple's rapid growth that has raised the question of whether it could exceed its rival to the north and become the most valuable technology company in the world.

If AAPL stock were to hit $280, that would reportedly give the company a market value of $250 billion — equaling that of Microsoft in its current state. Of course, that's a big 'if,' but with continued rapid iPhone expansion, growth of the Mac platform, and the anticipated introduction of a tablet device in the first quarter of 2010, some believe it's possible within the next year.

UBS Investment Research's Maynard J. Um believes Apple will hit $280, and analyst Gene Munster with Piper Jaffray has a price target of $277 for Apple. In addition, analyst Mike Abramsky with RBC Capital Markets has forecast that AAPL will hit $275 in the next 12 months. For comparison, analysts believe Microsoft could trade as high as $36 in the next year, which would reportedly bring its market cap to $320 billion.

"Apple is now visible in Microsoft's rearview mirror," Madway's report said.

Despite Apple's gains, Microsoft is still growing at a brisk pace. Since 2005, its revenue has risen 47 percent, to $58.4 billion. But Apple, in the same frame, more than doubled, reaching $36.5 billion. Earnings per share for the Mac maker saw a four-fold increase to $6.29.

Last quarter was record setting for Apple, which saw profits surge 46 percent on record sales of 3 million Macs and 7.4 million iPhones. The company's profits for its fourth financial quarter of 2009 were $1.67 billion, or $1.82 per diluted share, on sales of $9.87 billion.