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After peaking at $705 last September, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) shares broke below $400 this past week for the first time since December 2011. That $305 per share loss translates into $286 billion in market cap lost in a matter of months. That's an astounding amount to have evaporated in such a short period of time, mostly resulting from growth deceleration, high-end market saturation, and -- most of all -- fear.
The value that Apple investors have lost in aggregate since September could buy an awful lot of things. What could shareholders have purchased or paid for with $286 billion?
1 Microsoft and 3 Netflixes
With longtime rival Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT ) entire valuation currently under $250 billion, Apple investors could have theoretically swallowed the software giant whole with as much as they've lost. With the change left over ("can you break a 286 billion dollar bill?"), the Mac maker could have also scooped up Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX ) three times over just for good measure. Buying the dominant online video streamer has been entertained before.
Almost 2 International Space Stations
With development beginning in 1994, the International Space Station has cost an estimated total of $150 billion over the past 19 years to build, operate, and maintain. Only approximately $100 billion has been borne by the U.S., with other countries pitching in to help foot the bill. For $286 billion, Apple investors could have nearly financed two orbital research facilities.
14 million discouraged European workers
One of the European Union's research agencies, Eurofound, conducted a study late last year that estimated the cost of Europe's "lost generation," 14 million out-of-work and discouraged young Europeans. Aged 15 to 29, these individuals are not employed and not pursuing education and training, in part because of difficult macroeconomic conditions across the pond. The report estimates that this group altogether is costing the EU approximately 3 billion euros per week in state welfare and lost production, which translates into 153 billion euros annually. That translates into $200 billion of annual costs, well under our imaginary budget.
4 Hurricane Sandys
Easily the worst climate disaster to hit the Northeast last year was Hurricane Sandy. Economic losses, damages, and other costs related to the superstorm have been estimated at $65 billion. Apple shareholders could have covered those damages more than four times and still had money left over.
Nearly 3 iPad Minis for every person in America
With the entry-level iPad Mini starting at $329, Apple could have handed out 869 million of the devices with its market-cap losses. That would be enough for nearly three small tablets for each of the 315 million people in the U.S. today.
1 Japanese tsunami
The horrific tsunami that struck Japan in 2011 resulted in approximately $210 billion in damages. That figure covered only the first nine months of 2011 and has inevitably climbed since those estimates. With the $76 billion Apple shareholders have left over, they should be able to cover the rest, too.
Forbes recently came out with its 2012 valuations of all 32 teams in the NFL. Adding up every single team's franchise value sums up to $35.4 billion, meaning Apple's lost value could cover eight entire NFLs. However, in this case, Apple could be getting something in return, since all teams combined generated an estimated $8.8 billion in revenue last year. With eight NFLs, that would be $70.4 billion in annual revenue, which still wouldn't match the iPhone business alone, which has generated $85.4 billion in sales over the past year.
371 Mona Lisas
The Mona Lisa is, of course, priceless, but that hasn't stopped people from trying to figure out its worth. The main way people have attempted to value the historic painting is through a 1962 insurance assessment, which pegged its value at $100 million at the time. Adjusting for inflation using the CPI translates that total into $770 million, making the Mona Lisa probably the most valuable painting in the world. Even so, Apple shareholders could theoretically purchase 371 of Leonardo Da Vinci's timeless masterpiece.
There's more where that came from
Of course, the list of things that $286 billion could pay for is well beyond the scope of this article. If Apple falls further, its market cap losses from the peak could easily approach or top $300 billion. What would you buy with what Apple shareholders have lost?
Can Apple ever recover all or some of its market-cap losses? That's a key question on the minds of every Apple shareholder right now, and The Motley Fool hopes to answer it in our new premium research service on Apple. Senior technology analyst Eric Bleeker, CFA, and I have produced numerous extensive reports on a wide range of topics, all of which dig into Apple's core fundamentals. Get started by clicking here.