Apple's (AAPL 0.48%) conservative valuation at just 13 times earnings is reflective of the reserved outlook the Street has for the company. With no new product categories in the post-Steve Jobs' era, the market is getting antsy to see if Apple can still launch successful enough blockbuster products to meaningfully move its already-massive bottom line. But despite these doubts, there is still a general sentiment of immense admiration for the world's most valuable publicly traded company. In fact, according to a recent study by Fortune, Apple is still the world's most admired company.
This isn't the first time Apple has topped Fortune's annual list of "Most Admired Companies" -- far from it, in fact. Apple has topped the list for seven consecutive years.
To rank the companies, Fortune surveys corporate peers including executives, directors, and industry analysts. The study's topics include, innovation, people management, use of corporate assets, social responsibility, quality of management, financial soundness, long-term investment, quality products and services, and global competitiveness. Apple ranked first among industry peers in seven out of nine of these attributes.
Fortune notes that Interbrand ranked Apple as the most valuable brand on the planet in 2013.
What's next for Apple?
Can Apple hold its spot of admiration among the world's best companies? The answer to this question could make or break the company as an investment. All Apple really needs to do to reward investors at these conservatively valued levels is maintain its pricing power and mindshare among consumers.
Patents aren't enough intangible assets to help Apple remain so admired. Apple will have to persist at the forefront of technological innovation in the coming years to preserve its unnatural gross profit margins and monstrous levels of annual revenue.
With a very limited product line, every new gadget that comes out of Apple's pipeline matters. And Apple CEO Tim Cook has said the company has products in "new categories" this year, so we will soon see how well the company can execute such an important milestone. Cook has a lot to live up to; the last two new product categories for the company were the iPad and iPhone -- two products that catapulted the company to success the market never imagined.
While it's no surprise that Apple took the top place again on Fortune's list given that it has done so in six years prior to this year's survey, it's a nice affirmation for Apple shareholders. But it's in 2014 that Apple will really be tested. As Fortune author Erika Fry attests, "but fan boys and girls (not to mention the market) are getting antsy to see its next big product." Where could a new product come from? "Bets are on a smartwatch or AppleTV, but the company is also reportedly turning its attention to cars and medical devices," Fry notes.