Apple may have a post-holiday gift for investors

Apple (AAPL) has long been a winner for investors, with growth rates and profitability that are far beyond what its competitors have managed. Now, its fiscal first quarter, which coincided with the holiday shopping season, may have brought success beyond analysts' wildest dreams.

Market research firm IDC recently released its preliminary PC shipment numbers for the holiday quarter. Apple was fifth out of the top five, but its 5.75 million units shipped represented 18.9 percent growth over the previous year.

In addition, as Philip Elmer-DeWitt at Fortune noted, Apple's sales were higher than expected. Only two of the Apple analysts that Fortune follows had estimated larger unit sales. The average estimate was about 5.5 million.

The number of Macs was low compared to the true giants in the PC field, including Lenovo (16 million), HP (HPQ) (15.9 million) and Dell (10.9 million). However, Macs are considerably more expensive than Windows-based PCs.

In the previous quarter, Apple had sold roughly 5.5 million Macs at an average sales price of about $1,200. An additional 250,000 units, at that price, would represent another $3 billion in sales.

Then, as Apple Insider notes, the iPhone 6 might be driving record sales for Apple in China and India. It cited evidence including the weeks that Hong Kong buyers face to obtain one of the devices and the continued opening of new Apple retail stores in China. One estimate from India suggested that the rate of unit sales might have recently climbed by 50 percent.

All this involves inference, which is the stock in trade for corporate sales guesswork. But if the augury is correct, Apple could have another one of those blow-out quarters that pumps its stock price even higher.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.