An old fa­vorite joins bat­tle for most valu­able com­pany

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - BUSINESS | LIFE -

A funny thing hap­pened in the com­pe­ti­tion to be the most valu­able pub­lic com­pany in the U.S.

Ap­ple be­came the first U.S. com­pany val­ued at $1 tril­lion in Au­gust, and Ama­zon briefly joined it a month later. With Ap­ple sell­ing phones for more than $700 a pop, on av­er­age, and more and more con­sumers shop­ping on Ama­zon, it was no sur­prise that those com­pa­nies rose to the top of the value chain.

Then came Oc­to­ber and Novem­ber. Both com­pa­nies is­sued cau­tious out­looks for the hol­i­days amid a down­turn in the stock mar­ket and in­vestors dumped their shares, open­ing the door for a third player.

Mi­crosoft, the 1990s home-com­put­ing pow­er­house that is hav­ing a re­nais­sance mo­ment, has eclipsed Ama­zon and is close to pass­ing Ap­ple in mar­ket value. Around mid­day Thurs­day, Ap­ple's value topped Mi­crosoft's by just over $2 bil­lion: $847.6 bil­lion to $845.2 bil­lion. Ama­zon was back to $820.8 bil­lion.

That Mi­crosoft is even close to eclips­ing Ap­ple would have been un­heard of just a few years ago.

But un­der CEO Satya Nadella, Mi­crosoft has found sta­bil­ity by mov­ing away from its flag­ship Win­dows oper­at­ing sys­tem and fo­cus­ing on cloud­com­put­ing ser­vices with longterm busi­ness con­tracts.

Mi­crosoft even mo­men­tar­ily passed Ap­ple in value on Mon­day, the first time in eight years it was more valu­able than the iPhone maker. Ap­ple has been the world's most valu­able firm since claim­ing the top spot from Exxon Mo­bil ear­lier this decade. Mi­crosoft hasn't been at the top since the height of the dot-com boom in 2000.

Wall Street an­a­lysts are en­cour­aged by Mi­crosoft's grow­ing cloud-com­put­ing busi­ness while a bit con­cerned about a slow­down in Ap­ple's phone sales. Re­search firm Cana­cord Ge­nu­ity low­ered its price tar­get for Ap­ple to $225 from $250 on Thurs­day, while main­tain­ing a "buy" rat­ing. Ap­ple shares have fallen from around $225 in early Oc­to­ber to below $180.

That 21 per­cent de­cline has al­lowed Mi­crosoft to again be a con­tender for most valu­able com­pany. Mi­crosoft shares have dropped only 4 per­cent in the same time frame, a re­flec­tion of its steady fo­cus on busi­ness cus­tomers in re­cent years.

Be­ing less re­liant on con­sumer de­mand helped shield Mi­crosoft from hol­i­day sea­son tur­bu­lence and U.S.-China trade war jit­ters af­fect­ing Ap­ple and other tech com­pa­nies.

[AP PHOTO]

An elec­tronic screen dis­plays Ap­ple stock at the Nas­daq Mar­ketSite in New York.

[AP PHOTO]

Mi­crosoft CEO Satya Nadella lis­tens to a ques­tion as he sits in front of the Win­dows logo dur­ing the an­nual Mi­crosoft Corp. share­hold­ers meet­ing in Belle­vue, Wash.

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