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Apple Overtakes Microsoft in Market Capitalization

Apple Passes Microsoft
Apple Inc. passed Microsoft Corp. to become the most valuable U.S. technology company. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Apple Inc., the computer maker turned mobile gadgeteer, overtook Microsoft Corp. to become the most valuable technology company on optimism it can keep adding customers for its iPhone, Macintosh computer and iPad.

By 4 p.m. New York time in Nasdaq Stock Market trading, Apple’s market value was at $222.1 billion, higher than Microsoft’s $219.2 billion. That made Apple the most valuable technology firm in the world. It’s also the second-largest U.S. stock by market value, behind oil company Exxon Mobil Corp., valued at $278.6 billion on the New York Stock Exchange.

In intraday trading, Apple climbed as high as $252.13 before slipping $1.11 to $244.11. Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs last month said second-quarter profit almost doubled and sales soared 49 percent on demand for the iPhone. The results don’t yet include the iPad, which went on sale after the close of the period for the Cupertino, California-based company.

“Apple really checks all the boxes when you look at the tech sector,” said Ryan Jacob, a fund manager at Jacob Internet Fund in Los Angeles, which has Apple as its top holding. “Do they have the opportunity to gain share in their markets? What are the prospects for margins? It’s hard to find a company that you can have more confidence in than Apple.”

The value shift underscores the changing fortunes of two technology industry pioneers. Microsoft, the world’s largest software maker, has had mixed success expanding beyond its mainstay Windows operating system business into new markets, including mobile phones, Web search and gaming consoles.

Apple’s Revamp

Apple, on the verge of bankruptcy when Jobs resumed leadership in 1997, has transformed itself from the maker of Macintosh personal computers into a consumer electronics trendsetter with the release of the iPod music player in 2001, the iPhone in 2007 and this year’s release of the iPad tablet.

“With their relentless pursuit of technological and design innovations -- driven largely by Steve Jobs -- Apple has become the dominant technology company of this decade,” said Michael Obuchowski, chief investment officer for First Empire Asset Management in Hauppauge, New York, which oversees $3.5 billion including Apple and Microsoft shares.

Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft slipped 4.1 percent to $25.01 in Nasdaq trading. That marked the seventh straight day of declines, the longest streak of losses since February 2007.

‘Weak’ Microsoft

The stock was dragged down after Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, in remarks to reporters in Singapore, said European financial troubles “will not be isolated to Europe.”

“Microsoft has been extremely weak over the last month, underperforming other technology stocks and that’s really what’s moved Apple into the leading position in terms of market cap,” Jacob said.

Apple sold more than 1 million tablets in the U.S. in the first 28 days after its April 3 debut and has said that demand is outpacing supply. The iPad goes on sale outside the U.S., including in the U.K., France, Germany, Canada and Japan, on May 28. Jobs, 55, will give the keynote speech at Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference, which begins June 7. He is expected to introduce a new iPhone at the event, according to analysts.

Microsoft said last month third-quarter sales rose 6.3 percent to $14.5 billion, below the most optimistic estimates. While both profit and sales exceeded the average estimate of analysts in a Bloomberg survey, some investors held out for larger gains, said Dave Stepherson, a fund manager at Hardesty Capital Management in Baltimore.

Unearned revenue, a measure of multiyear contracts, also fell short of some estimates, a sign business demand for Microsoft products may not be picking up as quickly as some analysts had predicted.

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