Can Apple Save Its Status?

With Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) stock plunging on Thursday following the release of the company’s fiscal first-quarter earnings, there was another key figure that was rapidly losing value: its market cap.

A year ago, on January 25, 2012, Apple’s stock-market value grew to $416.5 billion, beating out Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM) as the most valuable company in the world. Apple held onto that lead all of last year, even widening the gap to $240 billion in September when it hit a record stock-price high. As The Wall Street Journal points out, that gap alone was greater than the value of 98 percent of the companies in the S&P 500. Around the middle of last year, Apple became the biggest U.S. company of all-time after surpassing Microsoft’s (NASDAQ:MSFT) 1999 exploits.

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However, with the stock consistently dropping in value since reaching those highs in September, the company’s market cap has been in danger of slipping down on the list as well. With the latest fall, at one point on Thursday, the gap between Apple and Exxon was down to only about $6.2 billion.

“Now it’s just a matter of whether or not [Apple] becomes one of the previous list of companies that obliterated shareholders since they hit over $500 billion,” Yahoo Finance’s Jeff Macke said. “So far Apple has given back over a quarter billion dollars of market cap. When you get that successful — picture Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT), Microsoft — there’s nowhere to go. You run out of ideas.”

Apple’s earnings numbers were not particularly weak, but the iPhone maker failed to meet the soaring expectations of its investors and tech analysts. The company announced revenue of $54.5 billion and net profit of $13.1 billion, or $13.81 per diluted share. It sold a record 47.8 million iPhones in the quarter. Several analysts have brought out research notes since the earnings release that pare expectations. Meanwhile, Exxon’s stock price is rising as the oil market begins heating up once again.

Interestingly, Apple’s effective market cap is now just over three times the size of its cash reserves, which are worth $137 billion. That would imply that Apple’s other assets, including operations and brand are worth about $300 billion.

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