Big Apple v Big Oil
Apple briefly becomes the world’s largest public company
Aug 13th 2011 | SAN FRANCISCO| from the print edition
BY ANY standards it is a remarkable achievement. In the space of 14 years, Apple has transformed itself from a computer firm on the brink of bankruptcy into a stockmarket superstar. On August 9th its market capitalisation surpassed that of Exxon Mobil, making it the world’s largest public company. Not for long: by the end of the day’s trading, the tech giant was $1 billion smaller than the oil giant: $347 billion to $348 billion. But Exxon’s lead is fragile. If the oil price falls further, Apple will surely outstrip it.
Oil remains a vital raw material, and Exxon can extract it from difficult places more efficiently than any other firm. But Apple’s rise reflects the growing influence of the digital industry, and the way that industry has changed. It used to be dominated by companies such as IBM and Microsoft, which made their billions selling software and services to corporations. Apple has leap-frogged both of them by delighting consumers.