Apple to Split Common Stock 2 For 1

Apple Computer Inc. (AAPL), whose shares have almost quadrupled in value over the last year on the success of its iPod music player, Friday said it set a 2-for-1 stock split, a move that will increase its authorized share count to 1.8 billion from 900 million.

Apple said each share held on Feb. 18 will get an additional share. The company plans to start trading on a split-adjusted basis at the end of February. The company had 419.1 million in average weighted shares outstanding for the first quarter ended Dec. 25.

Shares of Apple rose $2.85, or 3.6 percent, to close Friday at $81.21 on the Nasdaq Stock Market (search).

Shares of Apple have been on a tear as iPod (search) sales have soared with the introduction of less-expensive versions of the music player. The stock has been the best performer in the Nasdaq 100 index and the wider S&P 500 index over the past 12 months.

Apple is also one of the most expensive stocks among the 30 largest technology companies that make up the Computer Technology Index trading on American Stock Exchange (search).

Apple's last stock split had been in 2000, at the height of the technology boom. Previously it had had a stock split in 1987

Splits do not change the value of stocks but tend to make a stock more attractive to small investors who are often wary about betting on high-dollar stocks, experts said. Splits may also indicate that management has confidence in continuing to grow earnings and that as a result the stock price will rise.

But the high expectations indicated by a steep share price can mean that the company has less room for disappointment. For example, shares of Internet auction company eBay have lost about 20 percent since Jan. 19, when it reported earnings below Wall Street expectations for the first time in at least three years.

Apple is trading at 39 times over its projected for earnings per share next year, compared with a price/earnings ratio of 14 for Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ). Dell Inc. (DELL), the world's top personal computer provider, has a P/E of 32 and Gateway (GTW) carries a P/E of 30.

But many analysts continue to favor Apple.

Pacific Crest Securities analyst Steve Lidberg said, "We continue to like the stock. The momentum behind iPod and the new Mac products continue to bode very well for the company to exceed expectations in the next several quarters."

He added, "The split makes it a little bit easier to buy for individual investors but it does not change the fundamentals."

Among the 26 analysts polled by Reuters Estimates, 15 rated Apple "buy" or "outperform," 9 rated it "hold," and only one had a "sell" rating. One analyst had no opinion.

Apple has posted better-than-expected earnings and revenues for at least the last seven quarters, and analysts raised their estimates for the current quarter after Apple raised its outlook.

Under the share split, Apple shareholders of record at the close of business on Feb. 18 will receive one additional share for every outstanding share held. Apple said trading will begin on a split-adjusted basis on Feb. 28...

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.