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UPDATE 1-Apple shares hit new high on tablet excitement

* Shares up 3 percent, pass all-time high

* Report says Jan. event in the works

(Adds options details, analyst comment, share price)

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec 24 (Reuters) - Apple Inc AAPL.O shares reached their all-time high on Thursday as excitement builds over the expected release of its tablet computer.

Although Apple has never acknowledged that a device exists, anticipation is peaking as the company enters the new year.

Option traders exchanged about 275,000 contracts in Apple, above its average daily turnover, as calls outpaced puts by nearly two to one, according to option analytics firm Trade Alert

“Investors are excited about an anticipated release of an Apple tablet,” said William Lefkowitz, options strategist at brokerage firm vFinance Investments in New York.

“People are expecting this to be a product that would allow Apple to continue its tremendous growth. In addition, Apple stock hit a new high today and looks very strong on a technical basis,” he said.

On Wednesday, the Financial Times reported on its blog that the company has rented a stage at a venue in San Francisco and will make a “major product announcement” on Jan. 26.

The report, which cited people familiar with the plans, did not say whether Apple would introduce the tablet at the event. Apple has declined to comment.

The tablet could be a touch-screen device that resembles a larger iPhone or iPod touch, and could cost anywhere from $500 to $1,000, analysts have said.

There is a 50 percent chance that Apple will announce the tablet in January, with a shipping date by the end of March, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster said in a research note on Wednesday.

The tablet could be released in late March or April, Oppenheimer & Co analyst Yair Reiner said earlier this month.

Although most analysts have not included the tablet in their financial estimates, many expect it to be significant for Apple, complementing its portfolio of iPhones, Mac computers and iPods.

Reiner said the device could add 25 cents to 38 cents to Apple’s earnings per share.

The median price target on Apple is $242.50, roughly 16 percent higher than its closing share price on Thursday.

Shares of Cupertino, California-based Apple rose as high as $209.35, passing their previous all-time high of $208.71, before closing up 3.4 percent at $209.04 on the Nasdaq. (Reporting by Gabriel Madway in San Francisco and Doris Frankel in Chicago; Editing by Derek Caney and Robert MacMillan)