Apple the most valuable company ever, if you forget inflation

The world is ringing with the news that Apple is the most valuable company ever. But is it really?
Written by Suzanne Tindal, Contributor

commentary Apple is apparently the world's most valuable company ever.

On Monday, the company's rising share price saw its value inflate to more than US$621 billion, beating the record for market capitalisation set by Microsoft in 1999.

Apple's stock is riding on a wave of optimism around rumours of the impending launch of the iPhone 5, and a smaller, cheaper iPad.

Of course, the supposition that Apple is now the most valuable company ever doesn't take inflation into account, and assumes that money has the same value now as it did back at the turn of the century. You and I both know that's total bollocks. As consumers, we will have noticed how everything costs more now than it did in 1999.

In inflation-adjusted dollars, Microsoft was worth about US$850 billion on 30 December 1999. Microsoft is now worth US$257 billion. So, I'm sorry Apple, but you've got a while to go before you take that crown, even if there are predictions that you'll reach a trillion-dollar valuation. At this point, they're just predictions.

Of course, if we took inflation into account, the record would probably still be held anyway by some very early company, like the South Sea Company, which rose to staggering valuations before collapsing into a frothy foam of nothingness.

Which leads to another point: market capitalisation depends on the number of shares and the share price. The share price, in the end, is a measure not really of how the company is doing, but of how well we think it's going and how well it will continue to go, as well as a whole lot of not-very-solid things, like assumed brand value. We have seen with Facebook's share price how strongly that assumed value can vary. So what does Apple's valuation really mean?

While it's true that Apple has achieved great success since its near-death experience, and has battled its way into the hearts and minds of consumers and investors alike, I will not concede that it is the most valuable company in history. It would be more correct to claim that it is the greatest turnaround in a company's fortunes.

And a final thought on this evaluation goes to the SQLite team.

The inflection point
(Credit: SQLite )

AAP contributed to this article.

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