Its market cap makes it more valuable than General Motors, Ford, General Electric
No, it's not Apple
- The construction of the U.S. interstate highway system.
- All U.S. retail electricity sales.
- One year's worth of global lottery sales.
- Two Apollo space programs.
- The entire U.S. Navy carrier fleet.
- The entire U.S. retail sector.
With a newly instituted dividend and near-unanimity in bullish sentiment, it seems likely that Apple's market capitalization will soon surpass other ridiculously expensive milestones. But how far can it go, and how long can it remain ahead of the pack? The New York Times took a look back at the market's past market-cap rulers after Apple surpassed Exxon Mobil
Microsoft and Cisco each had their turn at the height of the dot-com boom, only to relinquish the throne to ExxonMobil as oil costs skyrocketed and energy again became a dominant economic theme in the mid-aughts. There's also something to be said for bubbly valuations coming back to Earth.
Looking back further, GE was the last company with significant manufacturing operations atop the market, holding the "world's largest" moniker through the mid-'90s. Before that, Wal-Mart and Altria, the former Philip Morris tobacco-led conglomerate, each briefly ruled. The last company to hold the crown for any extended length of time was IBM
The companies that claimed the crown for any extended length of time did so behind fundamental transformations to modern life. AT&T and GM, two of the Times' earliest leaders, connected America in different but equally important ways, though GM wound up ahead for a longer period. Exxon (before the Mobil merger) rode the interstate highway system and the postwar economic boom to market-cap leadership before IBM started the long process of computerized automation that continues to change modern life with each passing year.
Once the '90s hit, the market seemed unable to decide which company was really driving the modern economy. Was it the big-box retailer, the energy-focused conglomerate, the operating-system monopolist, or the oil titan? For now, at least, the answer seems to be a mobile-device manufacturer, which is a rather radical shift. Retailing is all about efficiency, and oil is just a commodity. Apple's sales today have earned it its place in history, but the consumer-electronics industry has never suffered its kings to rule for long.