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Apple becomes most valuable company in history

People walk through the Apple store in Grand Central Terminal on July 31, 2012 in New York City.

Here's a visual look at Apple's stock dominance. Apple nosed ahead of Microsoft, ExxonMobil and General Electric not so long ago.

Stacey Vanek Smith: Apple has hit a major milestone. The electronics giant is now the biggest public company ever measured by stock value, worth $616 billion.

Joining us now with more on this is our own Scott Tong. Good morning Scott.

Scott Tong: Good morning Stacey.

Smith: So Scott, how big of a deal is this?

Tong: Well, compared to today’s competition, Apple is looking in the rearview mirror, and it can hardly see it. Last year, Apple nosed ahead of ExxonMobil, which is number two. Now, Apple is worth one and a half Exxon Mobils.

Now you knew there a "however," and here it is: Historically speaking, if you adjust for inflation, Microsoft back in 1999 was bigger.

I spoke this morning to Howard Silverblatt at Standard & Poor's. He says the Apple stock now costs $665 to buy one share. To pass Microsoft back in the day, it would have to zoom up to 910.

Howard Silverblatt: Apple this year is up over 60 percent already. So if you find somebody who bought it, let them buy dinner.

Let them buy dinner. By the way Stacey, we have a cool Apple stock chart up on our website. As you can imagine, it looks like a hockey stick.

Smith: Well Scott, give us an idea of how the hockey stick started -- how did Apple get here?

Tong: By charging a lot of money. By one guess-timate, it costs almost 200 bucks in material and labor to make a smart phone. Samsung marks it up to maybe $400; Apple marks it up to $600. A lot of this story is a profit margin story.

Smith: And can Apple keep this up? They report disappointing earnings last month...

Tong: Well that is right. So if you're a half-full kind of person, you might say, "Eh, this is just the lull before the next must-have Apple product, the iPhone 5." Longer view: Nobody stays on top forever -- just ask General Motors, or Sony, or Woolworth.

Smith: Scott Tong in Washington, thank you Scott.

Tong: You're welcome.

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.

Here's a visual look at Apple's stock dominance. Apple nosed ahead of Microsoft, ExxonMobil and General Electric not so long ago.

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