Microsoft reclaims title of most valuable public company after Apple falls

Microsoft last rallied back above Apple in the midst of the coronavirus-induced sell-off in 2020 © REUTERS

Microsoft regained its crown as the most valuable publicly listed company in the world on Friday from Apple, whose shares slumped in morning trading following a weak quarterly earnings update from the maker of iPhones and Mac computers.

Microsoft’s 0.7 per cent gain in early morning trading in New York on Friday lifted its market valuation to $2.44tn. Apple slid 3.5 per cent, taking its market cap to $2.41tn.

Microsoft reported this week that its revenues soared in the third quarter, aided by a pandemic-fuelled surge in cloud computing resulting from a shift to remote working. The company’s quarterly revenue grew 22 per cent, its largest gain since 2014.

“We are still in the early days in digital transformation and Microsoft is benefiting from this trend,” said Rishi Jaluria, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, noting that Microsoft’s cloud software Azure has made up ground on its dominant rival, Amazon Web Services. Apple missed analysts’ forecasts in results released after markets closed on Thursday evening, as chip shortages and factory disruptions due to the coronavirus pandemic hit production.

Microsoft and Apple have vied for the position of the most highly valued public company since Apple first overtook Microsoft in 2010, retaining its position until 2018. Microsoft last rallied back above Apple in the midst of the pandemic-induced sell-off in 2020. Its stock has risen more than 5 per cent since the start of the week, taking its year-to-date gains to more than 46 per cent.

Another tech giant, Amazon, fell 3.7 percent on Friday morning after warning that rising costs due to labour shortages would crimp its earnings for the rest of the year. Amazon is valued at $1.7tn and ranks as the fourth-largest company by market capitalisation, behind Google parent Alphabet. The disappointing updates contrasted with several other major tech groups such as Alphabet that reported earlier in the week, whose strong results helped the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite catch up with wider equity markets and surpass its record high hit in early September.

The Nasdaq Composite slid 0.5 per cent on Friday morning but is still up almost 2 percent for the week. Its weaker performance this year is indicative of a shift by investors away from technology stocks, which had led the market higher, and towards more cyclical companies set to benefit from economic recovery.

Tech stocks were the worst-performing sector in the S&P 500 in the first quarter, as expectations of a reopening trade pegged to companies beaten down by the pandemic took hold. As exuberance faded in the second quarter, tech stocks roared back to lead gains, before slipping again to give way to financial stocks and communication companies in the third quarter. – Financial Times

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