Even with a down day on Tuesday, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) remains by far the top U.S. stock valued by market capitalization (share price x number of shares). In fact, it can still claim to be the highest valued company in U.S. history at just above $620 billion, surpassing Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), which on December 30, 1999, was valued at just over $618 billion.
For all you sticklers out there, Mr. Softy’s inflation-adjusted value rises to $853.7 billion, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ inflation-calculator — but why quibble? Apple’s feat is an astonishing rise no matter how you slice it — the company didn’t even show up on a list of most valuable companies until the fourth quarter of 2009.
Apple’s No. 1 market cap position now puts it in extremely rarefied company. Consider: Since Microsoft held the most-valued company mantel in 1999, only two other goliaths managed to wrest it until Apple came along. Here are the market cap leaders since year-end 1999, according to data compiled by Financial Times (note: values computed as of the end of the first quarter in each year):
1999-2000, 2003: Microsoft
2001-2002, 2004-2005: General Electric (NYSE:GE)
2006-2011: Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM)
Beyond the very few No. 1s, another telling point involves the many companies that have been on the Top 10 highest market cap list that no longer show up at all: Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) and Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) were early 2000s entrants, and Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) were both in and out in the mid-2000s.
AT&T (NYSE:T) makes an occasional entrance, and both Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) and Citigroup (NYSE:C) were on the short list of the Top 10 for a period of time.
Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) has made a significant run since 2008, consistently breaking into the Top 10 group, and most recently holding fast within the Top 5.
But nobody, and I mean nobody, is going to catch Apple anytime soon.
Marc Bastow is an Assistant Editor at InvestorPlace.com. As of this writing he was long MSFT, AAPL, XOM, GE, INTC and JNJ.