Shares in Red Hat (NYSE: RHT) were red hot on Wall Street Thursday.

Buyers drove up RHT by nearly 17 percent, or $6.74, in the first 45 minutes of trading.

Red Hat traded at $46.71 with 5.5 million shares traded – nearly three times the daily average.

By 1:30 p.m. shares were up $7.14, or 17.9 percent, to $47.11. Nearly 12 million shares have been traded. They hit a high of $47.88 on the day before closing at $47.26, up $7.29 or 18.22 percent. Seventeen million shares were traded. 

The Hatters’ 52-week high is $49.

On Wednesday, the world’s top Linux software developer and services provider wrapped up its fiscal year with a quarterly profit of 26 cents per share, which was 4 cents higher than Wall Street analysts’ expectations. A year ago, Red Hat reported earnings of 19 cents per share.

Several analysts weighed in with positive comments about Red Hat, reiterating positive ratings on the stock and setting share target prices between $55 and $57. (For more details, read here.

(Read CEO Jim Whitehurst’s assessment here.)

Red Hat Chief Financial Officer Charlie Peters added to the optimism about the company’s performance with his projection of 18 percent growth in revenue for the new fiscal year.

Peters said he expects Red Hat to top $1 billion in total revenue for the first time.

“As for guidance, we are forecasting total revenue in the range of $1,050,000,000 to $1,070,000,000 for fiscal 2012, representing an annual growth rate of up to 18 percent in U.S. dollars,” Peters said in a conference call with analysts Wednesday evening.

“This growth rate assumes that subscriptions will grow faster than services revenue and that service revenue growth will slow,” he added. “We believe that we can again expand our full-year non-GAAP [generally accepted accounting principles] operating margin and we are targeting approximately 25.7 percent, while also investing in future growth opportunities.”

After adjusting for one-time and certain expenses, Red Hat reported earnings of $51.4 million.

 For the quarter, revenues rose 25 percent from last winter to reach $244.8 million. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected revenues of $236 million.

The news sent Red Hat shares up $3.92, or more than 9.8 percent, to $43.89 in after-hours trading. Red Hat announced the financials after the markets closed.

Subscription revenues for Red Hat increased 24 percent from a year earlier to $209.3 million in the fourth quarter.

 For the year, subscription fees climbed 21 percent to $773.4 million.

 After adjustments, net income for the entire year climbed $24 million to $162.8 million, or 83 cents per share. That was 12 cents higher year-over-year.

 Red Hat’s fiscal year ended Feb. 28.

 “With record bookings and billings in the fourth quarter, we are on a run rate to become the first pure-play open source company to achieve a billion dollars in revenues next fiscal year, a milestone achievement for Red Hat and the open source community,” stated Jim Whitehurst, Red Hat;s chief executive officer, said in a statement. “We believe the strong demand we experienced was largely driven by customers who are modernizing their data centers and preparing their infrastructure for cloud computing. The comprehensive portfolio that Red Hat has developed with platform, virtualization and middleware products provides enterprise customers with a foundation to deploy the next generation infrastructure.”

For the earnings report, read here.

 “Our fourth quarter results were strong and capped off a year of accelerated billings growth,” said Charlie Peters, Red Hat’s chief financial officer. “Broad- based, global demand for our products and services, coupled with strong execution by our associates, resulted in over 30 percent year-over-year growth in billings this quarter; our fastest billings growth in 12 quarters.”

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