Apple stock, still feeling the effects of one of the most successful quarters in history, set new record highs Tuesday and the tech giant increased its lead over Exxon for the title of most valuable company in the United States.

Apple shares hit a new high of $458.24 in intraday trading Tuesday and set a record for highest closing price for a second consecutive day. Apple closed at $456.48, an increase of 0.8 percent from Monday's then-record closing price of $453.01, helped by the announcement of a new retail chief and two European victories in its battle against rival Samsung.

The positive end to 2012's first month allowed the Cupertino, Calif., company to wrestle away the crown for highest market capitalization - the total worth of all stock in circulation - from oil giant Exxon and build a big lead in the competition.

Apple originally took the title from Exxon in August, becoming just the second technology company to reach that peak, after Microsoft. Exxon quickly took the designation back, but Apple briefly popped back on top last week, one day after announcing a record-breaking final quarter of 2011. By the end of that day's trading, however, Exxon was back on top.

Apple is now easily back on top, however, after Exxon stock plunged following its quarterly earnings report Tuesday. Investors exhibited concern about the company's 9 percent decline in oil and natural gas production despite record spending on energy exploration, and shares decreased 2.1 percent on the day to $83.74.

The opposite movement for the two companies' stocks produced Apple's largest lead yet in their months-long jockeying for the top spot in market capitalization. Apple shares were worth a total of $425.6 billion at the close of trading Tuesday, while Exxon's market cap is at $401.4 billion.

(c)2012 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) Distributed by MCT Information Services