Apple’s market capitalization hit $700 billion during Tuesday morning’s trading session, which is a lot of moolah. It’s more than the value of the entire Russian stock market combined. It’s more than the annual gross domestic product of Sweden, home to such powerhouse companies as Ikea, Volvo, Ericsson, H&M, Spotify, Astra Zeneca and Assa Abloy, the world’s leading lock brand.
The Cupertino-based company also now towers over ExxonMobil, which used to be the world’s most valuable company. Poor Exxon is stuck at around $400 billion.
For really old people, this seems eerily familiar.
Back in 1999, one of the big news items in the business world was the moment when Nokia’s market cap passed BP Amoco and the Finnish phone vendor became Europe’s biggest company, with a lofty $250 billion valuation. One of the reasons for Nokia’s valuation spike was the hot new product category that the company dominated. So-called “smartphones” were able to offer things like email and web browsing, and this captured the imagination of Wall Street.
About eight months after Nokia surpassed BP, the Nasdaq peaked and started its soul-crushing, multi-year tumble. And now we are doomed to repeat the same pattern, with Apple playing the Pied Piper of Hameln, right?
Well, this is where things get kind of complex. Back in 1999 when smartphone market first drove investors wild, Nokia’s price/earnings (P/E) ratio hit 70 and Qualcomm’s topped 100. Investors were paying literally one hundred times one year’s earnings for hottest phone industry names.
But Apple’s P/E ratio is now 19. It’s literally less than one fifth of what investors valued Qualcomm at during the height of the 1999 telecom mania. So while the sheer spectacle of Apple being worth $700 billion may seem like a sure sign of a stock market bubble, we are nowhere close to a genuine tech bubble peak.
That would require Apple being valued somewhere north of $2 trillion.