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State taxpayers keep eyes on Apple earnings

The New York State pension fund holds 3.1

The New York State pension fund holds 3.1 million shares of Apple. (Jan. 14, 2013) Photo Credit: Getty Images

When Apple releases its quarterly earnings Wednesday afternoon, Long Island taxpayers should take notice.

The New York State pension fund holds 3.1 million shares. Every dollar the share price goes up or down translates into a $3.1- million rise or fall in the fund.

How many people around the globe choose an iPhone over an Android phone could ultimately be felt by the state's taxpayers, who make up for shortfalls in the pension fund and get a break when its investments perform well.

Apple is the world's most valuable company -- its shares are worth about $475 billion -- and it makes up roughly 1 percent of the $150-billion pension fund's assets. It's the fund's largest investment in any individual domestic stock.

When Apple's shares closed at $504.77 Tuesday, a $4.77 gain from Friday's closing price -- the stock market was closed Monday -- the pension fund's value rose by $14.8 million.

As the Cupertino, Calif., company changed the world of mobile communication with its iPhone, its stock soared, and so did the pension fund's holdings.

The pension fund has been investing in the stock for years, and last year it reported it had paid an average $54.63 per share, meaning that the investment has increased in value by more than 800 percent.

But the stock has been volatile in the past year. Shares have slid from their peak of $705.07 in September. Tuesday's price remains well above its 52-week low of $419.55, on Jan. 24, 2012.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is the sole trustee of the state's pension fund. "The strength of Apple's stock over the past several years has been an important part of the strong returns in our public equities portfolio," DiNapoli spokesman Eric Sumberg said in an email.

Sumberg stressed that the fund's equity investments are mostly in index funds, which hold large baskets of stocks in an attempt to inexpensively match the market's overall return. No single investment has a major impact on overall performance, he said.

The pension fund "isn't investing just in Apple," he said. "These index funds allow the [pension] fund to capture the growth of the American economy as a whole."

Growing competition may yet take a bite out of Apple.

Walter Piecyk, an analyst at BTIG Research, said the iPhone represents half of Apple's revenue and 60 percent of its profit. The company's earnings were growing by more than 60 percent in each of the last three years but are expected to slow down to less than 10 percent growth this year, Piecyk said.

"To go from 60 percent growth to less than 10 percent growth clearly will have an impact on the stock," Piecyk said. "Stocks represent future growth, not past growth."

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