Exxon regains top value spot

BARBARA ORTUTAY
Last updated 09:47 26/01/2013

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Exxon has once again surpassed Apple as the world's most valuable company after the iPhone and iPad maker saw its stock price falter.

Apple Inc.'s stock has been on the decline since the company's quarterly earnings report Wednesday suggested that its fast growth phase, rare for a company of its size, may be coming to an end.

Apple's stock fell 2.6 per cent to US$438.76 in afternoon trading Friday for a market capitalisation of US$412 billion. That followed a 12 per cent drop on Thursday, the biggest one-day percentage drop for the company since 2008.

Exxon Mobil Corp. gained 10 cents Friday to US$91.45 for a market capitalisation of US$417 billion.

Apple first surpassed Exxon in the summer of 2011, displacing the oil company from a perch it had held since 2005.

The two companies traded places through that fall, until Apple surpassed Exxon for good in early 2012 - at least until Friday.

China's largest oil company, PetroChina, could lay claim to having hit a market capitalisation even higher than either Exxon's or Apple's, but only based on prices on the Shanghai stock exchange, which is isolated from the rest of the financial world because of Chinese laws on foreign investment.

PetroChina's shares also trade in Hong Kong and on the New York Stock Exchange. Based on prices there, its market capitalisation never went as high as US$500 billion.

Apple and Exxon are among only a half dozen U.S. companies to have ever reached US$500 billion in market value. Apple and Microsoft Corp. are the only ones to have ever hit US$600 billion.

Apple's stock price peaked in September at US$705.07 on the day the iPhone 5 was released. Exxon, in the meantime, has been trading steady.

Its business - oil - seems less prone to stock market ups and downs than the Cupertino, California-based tech darling.

Exxon, which is based in Irving, Texas, set a record in 2008 for the highest quarterly earnings by any company. In the first nine months of 2012, Exxon earned nearly US$35 billion, or 10 per cent more than the same period in 2011, on revenue of US$367 billion. Results for the fourth quarter are due February 1.

Exxon, the biggest investor-owned energy company in the world, predicted in December that oil will continue to be the most important source of energy. That's because cars, trucks, airplanes, trains and ships will still depend heavily on oil-derived fuels such as gasoline and diesel.

This year, investors seem unforgiving with Apple, looking for perfection and punishing the stock for anything less.

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The company's stock price slipped below US$500 for the first time last week, as investors saw signs that the iPhone 5 was falling behind competition from phones running Google's Android software, especially those from Samsung Electronics Co.

The latest quarterly report added to the concerns. Apple warned that its revenue growth, which had been running at a speed more reminiscent of promising startups than multi-national corporations, is slowing down considerably.

A big reason: It has been nearly three years since a new product has come from a company still seen as the embodiment of innovation. That last product, the iPad, came in 2010, when its CEO Steve Jobs was still alive.

Some analysts question whether Apple can keep growing by just releasing new versions of its old products. The long-rumoured Apple TV, is still just that, a rumour.

- AP

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