Apple Inc. Surges Ahead of ExxonMobil to Become World's Most Valuable Company

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For the second day in a row, Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) passed Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM) in market capitalization, making it just the 11th company in history to hold the title of "World's Most Valuable Company."

But although Exxon managed to squeak back ahead of Apple by the end of trading Tuesday, it could not hold on to its lead yesterday. Apple ended the day at $363.69, giving it a market cap of $337.17 billion, while Exxon finished at $68.03, making its market cap $330.77 billion.

It's likely that the two giants will trade places several more times in the days and weeks ahead, but eventually Apple's momentum will make it the undisputed king of market cap.

Apple's achievement is all the more remarkable given its near-death experience in the mid to late 1990s, when it needed a $150 million investment from rival Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) to help prop it up. Apple surpassed Microsoft in market cap last year.

After the return of CEO Steve Jobs in 1997, the company began to recover, and then thrive. Since 2001, Apple has introduced such wildly popular products as the iPod (2001), the iPhone (2007) and the iPad (2010), driving its stock up nearly 4,000% over the past decade.

Meanwhile, Exxon stock is up just 2% in the past 5 years, and is actually down more than 20% since the end of 2007. The oil giant had held the crown of world's most valuable company for five years.

Yet even when Apple secures the market cap crown for good, it will still lag well behind Exxon in many other measures.

For example, Exxon employs more than 83,000 worldwide; Apple just 46,600. In terms of earnings, Exxon raked in $10.68 billion in profits on revenue of $119.2 billion in the June quarter; Apple generated $7.31 billion in profit on revenue of $28.57 billion.

World's most valuable company

The two companies have little in common. Apple, founded in 1976, spent much of its existence making only personal computers - at first the Apple II, then the Macintosh. It wasn't until the past decade, when it branched out into other kinds of consumer technology products, that it became a giant in its own right.

Exxon, the largest private oil company in the world, evolved from John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil monopoly, which was incorporated in 1870. Its current incarnation was created in 1999 when Exxon merged with Mobil, another descendant of Standard Oil. It primarily explores, transports and refines crude oil and natural gas.

Despite its money-making heft, Exxon won't be able to fend Apple off in the long run. Its ability to generate higher profits is largely hostage to volatile oil prices it cannot control. As recently as April West Texas Intermediate was selling for over $110 a barrel; yesterday it was flirting with $80 a barrel.

But Apple's knack for churning out products consumers can't seem to live without figures to keep driving the Cupertino, CA, company's earnings ever higher, assuring its position as the world's most valuable company.

"Apple is to the point it can do no wrong," Scott Sutherland of Wedbush Securities told USA Today.

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