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In past month Apple stock has outperformed just about everything

While noodling around with the charting tools on Yahoo Finance the other day, I noticed a surprising pattern: over the past month AAPL has done better than most other stocks.

This surprised me because from mid-December through most of January, AAPL underperformed most other stocks. Using the Yahoo chart-making tool, I created three charts that illustrate how AAPL went from dog to darling.

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Rather than compare prices, the Yahoo charts compare gains and losses by percentage, making it easier to see how different stocks or stock indexes are faring relative to each other.

The first chart compares AAPL to its two primary hardware competitors, Dell and Hewlett-Packard. The second, three other tech sector giants: Microsoft, Intel and Google.

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The third chart shows AAPL along with the three most-followed market indices, the Nasdaq, the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average (although I agree with Baltimore Sun business columnist Jay Hancock that the Dow may have outlived its usefulness).

The blue line representing AAPL looks okay until Dec. 16-17, when it plunges below all the lines on each chart, save struggling Dell, with which it dances over the next four weeks.

That was the week Apple announced CEO Steve Jobs would not deliver a keynote presentation at the Macworld show in San Francisco, setting off negative speculation about Jobs' health. Apple's additional announcement that January's Macworld expo would be its last only added to the angst.

On January 5 Jobs issued a reassuring press release regarding his health, but followed that up 10 days later with the bombshell that he would take a leave of absence from his duties as CEO of Apple to focus on his recovery.

Note that AAPL drops almost straight down from Jan. 5 to Jan. 20 in the aftermath of these announcements as concerns over Jobs' health peaked. Some really lousy days for the overall market didn't help either, but it's obvious AAPL felt relatively more pain in the days leading up to Jan. 20.

But then look at what happens. Within a week AAPL shoots up past its rivals and past the major market indexes.

Over the three-month period measured here, AAPL is down only 3.63 percent (as of Friday's close at $89.31). That's not good, but look at the others: Intel, down 7.68 percent; HP, down 17.72 percent; Microsoft, down 20.13 percent; Dell, down 23.63 percent.

Only Google takes off into positive territory, up 15 percent over the past three months.

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A month ago I noted the change in direction of AAPL, proposing that perhaps Wall Street had collectively concluded that Apple Inc. could function without Steve Jobs at the helm every day.

AAPL's continued above-average performance indicates fears over Jobs have indeed subsided (though any bad news or rumors could quickly reignite them).

I also think AAPL is benefiting from Wall Street's consternation over where to put its money in such a dreadful market. It's one of the few companies not going over the edge.

After all, Apple will almost certainly report profits throughout 2009 – perhaps not what it would have made in a better economy, but profits nevertheless. Add in that $28 billion rainy day fund (and zero debt) and you have an exceptionally sound investment.

With so many U.S. companies reporting losses of monumental proportions, some may even view Apple as a safe haven.

Imagine that.


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