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Barclays acknowledges Apple's momentum, ups stock price target to $655

The NASDAQ MarketSite TV studio, via Luiss Villa del Campo.

Recent gains made by Apple stock had placed the price target at Barclays underwater, but the investment firm responded on Wednesday with a newly increased target of $655 that it said shows "respect" for Apple's momentum headed into the second half of 2014.

Analyst Ben A. Reitzes previously had a price target of $590 —  a number Apple blew past earlier this month following strong results from its second fiscal quarter of 2014. On Wednesday, Reitzes acknowledged that Apple didn't see a "widely expected" slump in earnings in the first half of the year, and that's put the iPhone maker in a good position for the back half of 2014.

The analyst noted that shares of AAPL are up about 17 percent since the company's last quarterly earnings report, versus gains of about 2 percent for the S&P 500. He doesn't think Apple's gains will stop until the mid-$600s as hype for new products builds.

Apple was up in Wednesday afternoon trading, on pace to set yet another new 52-week high. The company closed at its highest level in over a year on Tuesday as investors demonstrated excitement for next week's Worldwide Developers Conference, as well as a forthcoming 7-for-1 stock split.

In raising his price target on Wednesday, Reitzes cited a total of five "short-term catalysts" he sees driving current momentum for the company. Chief among them was surprisingly strong iPhone sales, thanks to popularity for Apple's handset in overseas markets.

Second, Reitzes noted that the higher iPhone mix led to improved gross margins, which came in at 39.3 percent —  ahead of Wall Street expectations of about 38 percent for the quarter. Third, the analyst said Apple's increased capital allocation plan, to which it added another $30 billion, is appealing to investors.

For his last two catalysts, Reitzes looked to the future: He said expectations for huge iPhone sales in the second half of 2014 continue to grow, particularly with demand for big-screen phones and rumors that Apple will follow the trend with two larger handset models.

Finally, the analyst highlighted that Apple executives were uncharacteristically eager to talk about iTunes monetization in the company's recent quarterly earnings conference call. That candidness apparently made investors hopeful that Apple could embrace what Reitzes referred to as a "broader payments system" where the company could receive recurring fees and boost iTunes revenue.

Even with an 11 percent increase from its previous price target, Barclays' $655 forecast for AAPL stock is still much lower than some others on Wall Street. The highest professional analyst price target tracked by AppleInsider comes from Brian White of Cantor Fitzgerald, who has held his projected Apple share price of $777 for some time. The next highest is Rob Cihra of Evercore partners, who increased his target to $700 last month.

With shares of AAPL trading above $625 Wednesday afternoon, other prominent analysts' targets have also found themselves underwater for the time being. They include Maynard Um of Wells Fargo ("valuation range" of $515 to $585), Charlie Wolf of Needham & Company ($590), Rod Hall of JP Morgan ($623), and Steven Milunovich of UBS ($625).