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Apple’s warp-speed journey to $3 trillion


By Julia Horowitz, CNN Business

The first trading day of the year featured a major milestone for Corporate America and financial markets.

What’s happening: On Monday, Apple became the first public company to reach a market value of $3 trillion when its shares briefly hit an all-time high. For comparison, the entire UK economy is worth almost $2.8 trillion.

The moment underscored both the enduring strength of Apple’s business, as it continues to sell tens of millions of iPhones per year, and investors’ deep commitment to a stock that’s now a staple in portfolios around the world.

“Ultimately, I believe that the company’s best days are still ahead,” Loup managing partner Gene Munster said in an interview on CNBC.

Just as striking as the $3 trillion figure is the speed at which Apple’s market clout has mushroomed. Apple’s market value first crossed the $1 trillion threshold in August 2018 and passed $2 trillion in August 2020.

Quick rewind: When Apple went public in 1980, it sold its shares at $22 apiece — or 10 cents each if you take into account the stock splits the company has announced since then to keep shares affordable and easy to trade.

But despite a band of customers loyal to its Macintosh personal computers, the company struggled. In 1997, it was flirting with bankruptcy before rival Microsoft announced a surprise $150 million investment.

The real turning point came in 2007, however, when co-founder and then-CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPhone, which he called “a revolutionary and magical product that is literally five years ahead of any other mobile phone.”

“We are all born with the ultimate pointing device — our fingers — and iPhone uses them to create the most revolutionary user interface since the mouse,” he said at the time.

A touch-screen phone may not sound like a big deal now. Yet that’s a testament to Apple’s success. It sold its billionth iPhone in 2016.

When Apple crossed the $1 trillion mark in 2018, it faced tough questions about what would come next. Many analysts thought it needed a big new product to keep sales and profits booming.

And yet: CEO Tim Cook has shown that Apple can keep customers coming back to upgrade their devices. During its most recent quarter, despite supply chain problems, Apple brought in $38.9 billion from iPhone sales, a 47% increase from the previous year. The product accounted for almost half of all revenue.

The company has also built up formidable businesses selling services like Apple TV+ and cloud space, expanding beyond its reliance on hardware. It also nets hefty fees from its App Store, though its model has come under scrutiny.

Bottom line: The ongoing power of Apple’s iPhone business, along with its differentiation into other services, has built the company into a behemoth that now accounts for almost 7% of the entire S&P 500. It’s huge — but so are its profits.

And Wall Street is confident the company can keep growing. According to Refinitiv, 37 of 43 analysts who cover Apple think their clients should buy the stock. The other six recommend maintaining existing stakes.

“I think this can be a $250 stock,” said Munster, who predicts Apple will unveil wearables to capitalize on efforts to build out the metaverse later this year. “That would equate to a $3.8 trillion market cap.”

Elizabeth Holmes found guilty on four of 11 federal charges

Elizabeth Holmes, the former CEO and founder of failed blood testing startup Theranos, was found guilty on four charges of defrauding investors on Monday, capping the stunning downfall of a former tech icon.

Details, details: The charges on which Holmes was found guilty include one count of conspiracy to defraud investors, as well as three wire fraud counts tied to specific investors. Holmes faces up to 20 years in prison as well as a fine of $250,000 plus restitution for each count.

Holmes departed the courthouse hand-in-hand with her partner, Billy Evans, her mother and her father. She was met with a sea of cameras and journalists but did not comment in response to questions shouted from reporters, my CNN Business colleague Sara Ashley O’Brien reports.

In a statement, US Attorney Stephanie Hinds applauded the verdict.

“The jurors in this 15-week trial navigated a complex case amid a pandemic and scheduling obstacles,” she said. “The guilty verdicts in this case reflect Ms. Holmes’ culpability in this large-scale investor fraud, and she must now face sentencing for her crimes.”

The jury of eight men and four women did not find Holmes guilty on any of the counts that pertained to defrauding patients. The jury deliberated for more than 50 hours before returning a verdict on eight of the 11 charges. It was unable to reach an agreement on three charges.

Step back: The financial press has been glued to Holmes’ trial because of what it exposes about the startup ecosystem.

Holmes raised hundreds of millions of dollars from high-profile individuals including media mogul Rupert Murdoch, Oracle founder Larry Ellison, Walmart’s Walton family and former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. At its peak, Theranos was valued at $9 billion. She graced magazine covers as the richest self-made woman and was called “the next Steve Jobs.”

That image shattered in the wake of reporter John Carreyrou’s 2015 investigation for the Wall Street Journal. In recent years, Holmes has instead been portrayed as a con artist who played to Silicon Valley’s worst impulses.

That said: The Theranos saga has done little to dampen enthusiasm in the startup ecosystem, where firms with unproven businesses have no trouble raising millions of dollars from venture capitalists and other wealthy investors hoping to win big. According to PitchBook, venture capital firms put up nearly $239 billion in the first nine months of 2021, easily an all-time high.

When the biggest carmaker in America isn’t American

For nearly a century, the biggest carmaker in the United States has been General Motors, dominating the industry from its home base in Detroit, Michigan. But it’s about to lose that title — and not to a homegrown rival like Ford.

Toyota is set to become the leader in US auto sales when it reports year-end figures on Tuesday, my CNN Business colleague Chris Isidore reports.

GM’s sales trailed Toyota’s for the first nine months of 2021. Its fourth-quarter results are expected to be behind Toyota’s, too.

It’s a sign that US companies are becoming less dominant domestically. As recently as 2005, Toyota was No. 4 in US sales. Now, GM, Ford and Stellantis — the European automaker that owns Chrysler — only control 38% of the American market.

But that doesn’t necessarily correlate to a trade-off in industry jobs. Toyota builds 70% of the cars and trucks that it sells in the United States at five plants in the country. In fact, its factory in Kentucky — which can produce 550,000 vehicles per year — is Toyota’s largest plant in the world.

Up next

The ISM Manufacturing Index for December posts at 10 a.m. ET, along with the latest data on US job openings.

Coming tomorrow: CES, the huge consumer electronics trade show, kicks off in Las Vegas. The event is in person for the first time since the pandemic hit.

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