Apple vies for most valuable company title

Apple briefly became the world’s most valuable company as investor reaction to the technology group’s forecast-beating results boosted its market capitalisation past Exxon Mobil‘s - only for the energy company to reclaim its position at the market close .

Apple overtook the energy company’s valuation in August 2011, only to fall back below Exxon within a day.

And again on Wednesday a 6 per cent gain in Apple’s share price by midday trading on Nasdaq to $446.40 put its market capitalisation at $417bn, compared with Exxon’s $411bn, after the oil company’s 1.4 per cent decline to $85.97 per share.

But by the market close Exxon closed up half a percentage point to give a capitalisation of $418.1bn, slightly ahead of Apple’s $416.4 after its shares closed up 6.24 per cent at $446.66

Strong sales of the new iPhone 4S have also propelled Apple to regain another leadership position, in the US smartphone market.

Sales of the range of devices made by manufacturers such as Samsung and HTC using Google’s free Android software overtook Apple’s iOS smartphone platform a year ago. But with iPhone sales leaping by 128 per cent globally in the last three months of 2011 to 37m, Apple is back on top in the US, according to Kantar Worldpanel market research.

Apple’s 44.9 per cent US share edged ahead of Android’s 44.8 per cent in the 12 weeks to December 25 2011, Kantar said.

Android remained dominant in European markets, including Germany, France and Spain, according to the research, but the iPhone was narrowing the gap in the UK where its share rose sharply from 22 per cent a year ago to 34 per cent in the run-up to Christmas.

Dominic Sunnebo, Kantar’s global consumer insight director, said “Overall, Apple sales are now growing at a faster rate than Android across the nine countries we cover”.

Apple said on Tuesday it had now sold 315m iOS devices to date.

Sales of iPhones, iPads and Mac computers all reached record highs in Apple’s latest earnings, beating analysts’ most optimistic forecasts.

Kevin Dede of Brigantine Advisors said in a note to clients: “Expectations ran rampant on the iPhone 4S’ popularity around the world, and yet December’s results reported last night were still ‘staggering’ in comparison.

“Apple alone and unaided has vaulted, proving itself a punch-for-punch competitor against the exhaustive circle of Android manufacturers and Samsung as their lead, where it had seemed just one short quarter ago that collective group was running away with the smartphone title almost uncontested.”

As in its contest with Android, Apple is jostling narrowly with Exxon Mobil for the title of most valuable company.

The title is means less to equity investors than its valuation relative to earnings, but nonetheless provides a boost to Tim Cook, who took over as Apple’s chief executive from co-founder Steve Jobs just weeks before his death in October.

Apple also trumps Exxon and many other companies on productivity measures such as profit per employee, which exceeded $400,000 at Apple last year.

However, as its corporate stature grows, so too does scrutiny of its working practices.

It recently provided details of its suppliers for the first time, after criticism of employment conditions at some Asian factories that make the iPhone and other devices.

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