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Shares of Apple Inc. struck an all-time high in early trading on Thursday, topping $600 (U.S.) for the first time, following several price target increases by analysts.

The stock ticked up to $600.01 at Thursday's open before selling off. It closed down $4.01, or 0.7 per cent, at $585.56.

The milestone comes a day ahead of the release of the company's third-generation iPad computer, which goes on sale Friday in the U.S., Canada, Germany, Japan and seven other countries. Prices range from between $499 (U.S.) and $829 depending on the model.

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Apple's stock price has risen 46 per cent this year alone and 71 per cent over the last 12 months, a performance that has left analysts scrambling to keep their price targets up to date. Forty-eight of the 55 analysts following the company rate it a buy and only one analyst labels it a sell.

Among the most bullish, T. Michael Walkley, of Canaccord Genuity, raised his target this week to $710, up from $665. At the start of the year, he had set a target of $560 a share. In a report published Tuesday, Mr. Walkley said Apple had record pre-orders for the latest iPad, with wait times for shipping new models reaching two to three weeks.

"We believe the new iPad has raised the bar relative to competing tablets with impressive hardware specs, competitive pricing, and the leading software ecosystem of over 200,000 iPad-specific applications," he wrote.

Toni Sacconaghi, of Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. raised his target on Thursday to $710, up from $600. And Eugene Munster, of Piper Jaffray, lifted his price target to $718, up from $670.

Since Apple introduced the first iPad in 2010, the market for tablets has skyrocketed. By 2014, the devices will account for the fourth-largest use of semiconductors, up from 35th in 2010. Sales of semiconductors for use in tablets are expected to hit $18.2-billion in 2014, up from $2.6-billion in 2010, according to IHS, a market research firm in El Segundo, Calif.

"The speed of the media tablet's rise from near insignificance to top-tier prominence is unprecedented in the history of the global semiconductor industry," said Dale Ford, head of electronics & semiconductor research for IHS. "Driven primarily by Apple's iPad, the media tablet in four years is expected to scale semiconductor heights that took more than a decade for other products to attain, such as notebook PCs and cellphones."

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