Apple stock touches $600 in early morning trading ahead of iPad launch

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Apple's stock catapulted to new heights on Thursday, briefly breaching the $600 barrier for the first time in the company's history as investors remain upbeat about this Friday's iPad launch.

Shares of the Cupertino, Calif.-based company hit the $600 mark just moments before the 9:30 a.m. opening bell, continuing the staggering rate of momentum that has seen the stock leap nearly $200 since the first trading day of the year, when it sat at $411.23.

Apple shares bounced around the $599 range during most of the pre-market trading session on Thursday before reaching an all-time high of $601.01. Shares quickly retreated, however, with little support from the Street at post $600 levels.

As it stands, shares of Apple are up significantly from earlier this week when it reached a new high of $568.10 on Tuesday. The stock has swelled in value ever since last week's unveiling of the new iPad during a media event hosted by chief executive Tim Cook in San Francisco.

It was just last month that the total market capitalization of Apple reached nearly a half-trillion dollars in value. By Thursday, the company's market cap had ballooned by another $50 billion to about $550 billion.

AAPL stock has rocketed higher in anticipation of the new iPad, which is set to go on sale at 8 a.m. local time in 10 countries on Friday. It will be the largest product launch day that Apple has ever orchestrated.

/>AAPL stock is up 46% since the start of 2012. Chart via Google.

With initial online preorders already sold out, analysts have projected that Apple will sell at least 1 million of the new third-generation iPad on its launch day. As the launch comes late in the March quarter, industry watchers generally expect Apple to sell 10.1 million iPads in the current quarter, with sales rebounding in the subsequent June quarter.

Early projections have called for Apple to sell around 66 million total iPads in 2012. Significant growth for the iPad is expected to push AAPL stock even higher, with price targets of $710 at Canaccord Genuity and $720 from Morgan Stanley.