Apple Reaches $2 Trillion, Punctuating Big Tech’s Grip

It took Apple 42 years to reach $1 trillion in value. It took it just two more years to get to $2 trillion. Even more stunning: All of Apple’s second $1 trillion came in the past 21 weeks, while the global economy shrank faster than ever before in the coronavirus pandemic.

On Wednesday, Apple became the first U.S. company to hit a $2 trillion valuation when its shares climbed 1.4 percent to $468.65 in midday trading, though they later declined and ended the day flat. It was another milestone for the maker of iPhones, Mac computers and Apple Watches, cementing its title as the world’s most valuable public company and punctuating how the pandemic has been a bonanza for the tech giants.

As recently as mid-March, Apple’s value was under $1 trillion after the stock market plunged over fears of the coronavirus. On March 23, the stock market’s nadir this year, the Federal Reserve announced aggressive new measures to calm investors. Since then, the stock market — and particularly the stocks of Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet and Facebook — has largely soared, with the S&P 500 hitting a new high on Tuesday.

Investors have poured billions of dollars into the tech behemoths, betting that their immense size and power would serve as refuges from the pandemic-induced recession. Together, those five companies’ value has swelled by almost $3 trillion since March 23, nearly the same growth as the S&P 500’s next 50 most valuable companies combined, including Berkshire Hathaway, Walmart and Disney, according to S&P Global, the market analytics firm. Apple’s valuation alone rose by about $6.8 billion a day, more than the value of American Airlines.

“It’s become the new flight to safety,” Aswath Damodaran, a New York University finance professor who studies the stock market, said of investors flocking to Big Tech. Companies that are rich, flexible and digital are benefiting in the pandemic — and that describes the tech Goliaths, he said, adding, “This crisis has strengthened what was already a strong hand.”

BIG TECH’S DOMINATION

The stock market share of five tech companies hasn’t been seen from a single industry in at least 70 years. Apple’s rapid rise to $2 trillion is particularly astonishing because the company has not done much new in the past two years. It has simply built one of the tech industry’s most effective moneymakers, which has such a firm grip over how people communicate, entertain themselves and shop that it no longer relies on groundbreaking inventions to keep the business humming.

Apple first reached $1 trillion in August 2018, after decades of innovation. The company, founded in 1976 by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, churned out world-changing products like the Macintosh computer, the iPod, the App Store and the iPhone.

Since then, it has mostly tweaked past creations, selling gadgets with names like the Apple Watch Series 5, the AirPods Pro and the iPhone 11 Pro Max. It has also pushed into services such as streaming music, streaming movies and TV programs, and providing news, selling subscriptions for them.

Under its chief executive, Tim Cook, Apple’s most important innovation in recent years has arguably been its nearly unrivaled ability to generate profits. Mr. Cook has built a sophisticated global supply chain to produce billions of devices — most assembled in China — and leaned into a product line designed to lock customers into its ecosystem so they buy new gadgets every few years and pay monthly fees to use Apple’s suite of digital services.

Apple has also grown despite its size by extracting more money from the companies that run businesses on iPhone apps, drawing accusations that its 30 percent cut of some app revenues is unfair.

The Silicon Valley company’s business has been only further entrenched by the pandemic, which has forced people to work, learn and socialize virtually. From April through June, even as Apple shuttered many of its retail stores because of the virus, it posted $11.25 billion in profits, up 12 percent from a year earlier. It increased its sales of every product and in every part of the world.

“Our products and services are very relevant to our customers’ lives and, in some cases, even more during the pandemic than ever before,” Luca Maestri, Apple’s finance chief, said in an interview last month.

Still, Mr. Maestri disputed that the pandemic had been good for business. Apple would have made billions of dollars more without it, he said.

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