By Noel Randewich
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Apple <AAPL.O> shares cruised to a record-high close Monday, helping catapult the S&P 500 stock index over the $20 trillion mark in what amounts to a victory for plain-vanilla mutual funds over a bevy of hedge fund managers who recently backed away from the iPhone maker.
The largest component of the S&P 500 and a core holding on Wall Street, Apple's stock climbed 0.9 percent to end at $133.29, above its record high close of $133.00 hit on Feb. 23, 2015 and giving it a market value of about $699 billion.
Its increase helped balloon the S&P 500's <.SPX> market capitalization on Monday beyond $20 trillion for the first time.
While mutual funds have largely bet on Apple in recent months, some big names missed out on all or part of its recent acceleration.
Hedge fund manager Dan Loeb's Third Point LLC cut its stake in Apple by 26 percent to 1.9 million shares in the fourth quarter, according to regulatory filings, while George Soros and Carl Icahn also shed their Apple shares last year.
In contrast, the number of mutual funds reporting they became Apple shareholders in recent quarterly filings has jumped by 187 percent to 287, while the number of mutual funds liquidating their Apple holdings dropped by 26 percent to 151, according to Morningstar.
Among the big names who backed the stock, Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway <BRKa.N> last August said it had increased its stake in Apple by 55 percent to 15 million shares, now worth $2 billion. David Einhorn's hedge fund Greenlight Capital in January said it still likes Apple.
Apple has climbed 50 percent from lows in the first half of last year and is up 15 percent so far in 2017. It was still short of its all-time intraday high of $134.54, set on April 28, 2015.
Monday's gain came after Goldman Sachs analyst Simona Jankowski raised her price target for Apple to $150. She said she is more confident that an upcoming 10th anniversary iPhone will feature augmented-reality technology, which could help boost demand in a saturated smartphone market.
Many investors are betting that Apple will mark the iPhone's 10th anniversary with a dramatically improved model. They also believe that strong sales of the iPhone 6S two years ago have left a larger-than-normal base of customers ready to upgrade.
The Cupertino, California company reported strong December-quarter results on Jan. 31, and although it gave a cautious outlook for the current quarter, Wall Street expects revenue to grow this year after sinking nearly 8 percent in fiscal 2016.
In 1998, when the S&P 500 closed above $10 trillion for the first time, Apple accounted for just under 0.06 percent of the index. It now accounts for about 3.5 percent of the S&P 500, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices.
The 721 days that have passed since Apple's previous record-high close represent the largest gap between such milestones since the iPhone's launch in 2007.
(Reporting by Noel Randewich; Editing by James Dalgleish)