Apple eyes the trillion dollar threshold

If Apple continues on its current trajectory, something remarkable might happen on April 9, 2015, at around 11am.

That is, statisticians and investors I've spoken with say, a conservative estimate of when Apple could become the first company ever to be valued at $us1 trillion. (Yes, you read that correctly: the number one, followed by 12 zeros.)

Other analysts are making even more aggressive estimates for the company's value, which, as of Friday, was $us656 billion. Those people put the trillion-dollar mark at less than a year from now: August 16, 2013.

"It's hard to imagine Apple growing any faster than it has grown on both the release of the iPad and iPhone," said Michael Driscoll, chief executive of Metamarkets, a big data and predictive analytics company, and one of the statisticians betting Apple will top $US1 trillion in 2015.

Estimating when, or if, Apple will become the first to be worth $US1 trillion is a bit of a parlour game, but we can all likely agree on one fact: Today, it is a juggernaut.

Not long ago, Apple was a boutique PC maker. Since then, it has rolled over almost every company in its path, first with music players, then with mobile phones and, more recently, with laptops.

Nokia, Sony, Research in Motion, Dell and Hewlett-Packard have all watched open-mouthed as Apple took markets they thought were secured. Each time, Apple's stock rose and their stock fell.

"They are certainly a different kind of company," said Walter Piecyk, a research analyst at BTIG Research. But, he warned: "So was Nokia in the late '90s. No one thought they'd ever be challenged, and look at where they are today."

Even with this growth, there is another possibility: that Apple never reaches $US1 trillion. "In a worst-case scenario, Apple could befall the fate of Microsoft, which had a similarly dizzying peak in late 1999," Driscoll said.

If $US1 trillion were the peak of Mount Everest, Microsoft would have been rising through the highest base camp in December 1999, when its market capitalisation hit an all-time high of $US616.3 billion. Since then, the company has slid down the side of the mountain and is currently valued at a mere $US261 billion.

Indeed, the flap over the poor-quality maps on the iPhone 5 has led some people to wonder if Apple has already jumped the shark. But remember how well it has weathered other challenges, like poorly functioning antennas and Siri's erratic behaviour.

Apple is different from Microsoft. "When Microsoft peaked in 2000, it had 20 years running the PC revolution. We're essentially only five years into the smartphone revolution," said Charles Wallman, a securities analyst who runs an investment group. "Apple has 435 million customers based on the number of credit cards in iTunes. That's 6 per cent of the world's population. It's not a stretch to say it can get to 10 or 12 per cent of the world's population."

Even if Apple didn't enter any new product categories, it could reach $US1 trillion by doubling its sales. That's hard for a big company, but in many respects, it is already happening. BTIG Research predicts Apple will sell 45 million iPhones in the December quarter alone. (During the same quarter last year, the company sold 37 million iPhones, doubling its revenue from a year earlier.)

While it used to be a presence in the United States and a nobody overseas, Apple is now rolling out products like the iPhone 5 worldwide on the same day. The company will also, predictably, continue to increase its global retail division of 388 stores. These stores make an average of $US5647 in sales per square foot. By comparison, shopping malls in the United States make an average of $US341 in sales per square foot.

The company will continue to grow in China, too, where many of the more than 1 billion people who own mobile phones are upgrading to smartphones.

And don't forget those clunky old PCs. While other computer makers have lost ground, sales of Macs have grown each quarter for the past six years.

And none of these staggering drivers of growth consider Apple entering entirely new markets.

"When we invented the car, it was a substitute for horses, but it was the second phase of the car revolution — when we invent things around the cars like gas stations and drive-ins — that created new business markets," Wallman said. "We're seeing this happen now with the technology we have in our hands. We're entering the second phase of this revolution, where entirely new markets will be created, and Apple could create those."

For instance, Apple could transform the television industry, making its own TV set built on iOS, which analysts estimate could bring in another $US20 billion a year in revenue.

Or it could try to reinvent money itself, turning on the 435 million credit cards it has on file and enabling mobile payments. And there are consumer electronics areas that haven't even been invented yet, like wearable computing.

When Apple first introduced the iPhone, people slept in the streets to buy one. Five years later, people are still lining the streets to snatch the latest update, even though it is only a slight variation on the one before it. A company that can pull that off, selling 2 million iPhones in the first 24 hours, might be worth $US1 trillion in no time at all.

The New York Times