Apple becomes world's largest company once again. Sorry, Exxon.

Apple's market value at a session peak on Wednesday was $7.2 billion higher than Exxon's. But can Apple hold onto its new-found glory for long?

Lukas Barth/AP/File
Customers wait outside the Apple store in Munich before the start of sales of the iPad 2. Apple has again surpassed Exxon Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012, as the most valuable U.S. company after a huge fiscal first quarter.

Apple surged past Exxon Mobil as the world's biggest company—and many investors believe it's still cheap.

Apple reported earnings on Tuesday that blew past analysts’ expectations as the tech juggernaut sold an astounding 37 million iPhones during the last quarter.

At its intraday high price Wednesday, Apple’s market value reached $423.7 billion, up eight percent from $391.9 billion a day earlier.

That pushed it past Exxon Mobil’s market capitalization, which was $416.5 billion at its high during the session.

Apple has “$98 billion in cash, 116 percent EPS growth, and a depressed valuation,” wrote Goldman Sachs analyst Bill Shope, who raised his 12-month forecast on the shares to $600 from $550. “Our target price continues to be based on a 15 multiple on our revised 2012 EPS estimate.”

Along with sporting a quite reasonable price-earnings ratio, analysts and investors also expect Apple to declare a dividend for the first time this year, making the shares even more attractive.

After Apple and Exxon, there is a big drop off in size for the biggest publicly-traded companies in the world.

Beijing-based PetroChina comes in third at about $270 billion, followed by Microsoft, worth $245 billion.

Fourth-quarter iPhone shipments topped even the highest estimate on Wall Street: a 33 million estimate from Jefferies. iPad, Mac, iPod sales all exceeded consensus analysts’ expectations, along with the company’s gross margin, coming in at almost 45 percent.

“The company trades at 11 times this year earnings, which are expected to grow more than 40 percent,” said Paul Hickey of Bespoke Investment Group. “It’s certainly hard to take the other side of the argument.”


Apple surpassed Exxon in market value briefly last August, only to fall back  as investors worried about the future of the company in the wake of Steve Jobs’ death. Others simply sold the stock to raise funds amid a breakout in the European credit crisis.

It could come down to the wire today as to whether Apple can hold the top spot. As of this writing, Apple’s market value stood at $417 billion, compared to $413 billion for Exxon.

For more tech news, follow us on Twitter @venturenaut. And don’t forget to sign up for the weekly BizTech newsletter.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to