From East India to Apple - Company Values Through History

In August 2018, Apple became the first American company with a valuation of more than $1 trillion. While that’s high, there have many higher company valuations throughout history.

Many of these are from at least 100 years ago, though there are some recent tech and energy companies that make the list are some of the most valuable companies in history.

10 Highest Company Valuations Throughout History

The companies with the highest valuations throughout history focus on the three biggest revenue generators over the last 400+ years and fall into three sectors:

  1. Technology
  2. Energy
  3. Trading

Some of the companies listed below never fulfilled their promised of sustained growth, creating bubbles where the stock price skyrocketed and then plummeted just as fast.

In other instances, the companies faced rocky and turbulent times and then reinvented themselves to overcome these challenges and continue growing.

#10: Cisco: $798.7 Billion (2000)

Founded in 1984 by Sandy Lerner and Leonard Bosack after they created a way to connect local networks to share information instantly, Cisco went public in February 1990 with a market capitalization of roughly $150 million.

By March 2000, when the company reached its high-water mark of $798.7 billion (adjusted for inflation), shares had split nine times. And, in 2009, the company was added to the Dow Jones Industrial Average after growing annual revenue from $14 million in 1990 to $6.5 billion in 2010.

#9: General Electric (GE): $911 Billion (2000)

It’s tough to imagine now as GE—a company that can trace its history all the way back to the invention of the lightbulb—struggles to maintain a stock price above $10 a share, but the company was one of the industrial giants of the 20th century.

In fact, GE was one of the founding members of the Dow Jones Industrial Average and was the longest-tenured member, with more than a century of consecutive membership, until being removed on June 26, 2018.

In August of 2000, GE reached its highest market cap at more than $900 billion thanks to one of the longest bull market runs in history and because of diversification to create new revenue streams.

#8: Microsoft: $943 Billion (1999)

Founded in 1975 by Bill Gates and Paul Allen, Microsoft went public in 1986 and a year later the 31-year-old Gates became the world’s youngest billionaire. The company continued growth through the rest of the 80s and 90s as the tech industry took off with computer use becoming an integral part of everyday life.

This is the time when Microsoft achieved its highest valuation, which translates into almost $1 trillion. But the company fell on harder times after the dot-com bubble popped and missed opportunities on the portable music player, smartphone, and tablet.

However, in recent years Microsoft has invested wisely in AI, their digital assistant Cortana, and bought companies such as LinkedIn, helping the company maintain its status as a tech giant.

#7: Standard Oil: $1 Trillion (1900)

Formed in 1863 by John D. Rockefeller, the Standard Oil Trust became the largest oil refinery by 1868 and, in 1870, the name changed to Standard Oil Company. By the early 1880s, the company controlled roughly 90% of U.S. refineries and pipelines.

After Congress passed the Sherman Antitrust Act in 1890, the company was dissolved into seven separate companies called “The Seven Sisters”, but operated under the Standard Oil of New Jersey, which functioned as a holding company.

In 1911, after years of legal battles, the Supreme Court ruled Standard Oil was in violation of anti-trust laws and dismantled it into more than 30 different companies.

#6: Apple: $1 Trillion (2018)

On December 12, 1980, Apple went public. At the time, the 4.6 million available shares created more capital than any IPO since the Ford Motor Company in 1956 and instantly created about 300 millionaires. Steve Jobs, the largest shareholder, made $217 million himself.

By the end of trading that day, the company was worth almost $1.8 billion. Though the company has seen its share of ups and downs, including Jobs being forced out in the 1990s and then stepping down due to health problems in 2011, the company has exceeded expectations since creating the iPhone.

The First American Trillion Dollar Company

On August 2, 2018, Apple became the first American company to cross $1 trillion in value.

#5: PertroChina: $1.4 Trillion (2007)

With 86.5% of the owned by the Chinese government, PetroChina handles crude oil and natural gas exploration and has an annual revenue of more than $300 million.

In 2007 its IPO was the largest in China’s history and raised roughly $8.94 billion. Quickly, the stock price shot up and the company exceeded $1.005 trillion valuation, which translates to $1.4 trillion after inflation adjustments.

However, since then the company as struggled to maintain growth. In 2016, the valuation had been reduced to $114 billion and many investors speculate would be even lower if 100% of the company was available to the public.

#4: Saudi Aramco: $4.1 Trillion (2010)

In 2017, there were talks that Saudi Arabia was going to make the state-owned oil giant, Saudi Aramco, a public company by offering roughly 5% of the company on a stock exchange. Even at this low percentage, many expected it to be the largest IPO in history.

But, the company faced too many challenges, including strict reporting requirements, especially for U.S. stock exchanges, and has decided to only list public shares on the Saudi domestic exchange. However, the whole process had many investors wondering about the valuation of the company, with some listing it as low as $500 million and the Saudis throwing a ‘conservative’ estimate of $2 trillion.

The $4.1 trillion is based on calculations by the University of Texas finance professor, Sheridan Titman in 2010 and adjusted for inflation.

#3: South Sea Company: $4.3 Trillion (1720)

Designed as the British version of the Dutch East India Company, the Mississippi Company had a trading monopoly with Mexico and South America.

This monopoly was given in exchange for helping to finance the government’s debt with their war with Spain, which had been left in control of the trading territories that the Mississippi Company was supposed to have a monopoly of trading rights.

Not surprising, that left their ‘monopoly’ meaningless, though the company still touted its future success and trade riches. Many investors bought the sales pitch, creating a bubble, and sent stock prices soaring to a peak value of more than $4 trillion U.S. dollars into today’s value.

As with many economic bubbles throughout history, the value of the company plummeted just as fast as it grew.

#2: Mississippi Company: $6.5 Trillion (1719)

Established in 1717, the Mississippi Company was to France what the South Sea Company was to Britain, only with some currency manipulation involved as well.

John Law, a Scottish economist, was authorized to create a French national bank that would issue paper currency in exchange for gold and silver. Eventually, the company took control over most of the financial functions of the government and, along the way, acquired the rights for trade and development in France’s Louisiana and Canadian territories.

Once stocks were released for the company, they quickly soared from 500 livres to 18,000. But, once the bank issued more paper currency than it received in gold and silver, the value collapsed, spiraling France into a recession and leaving many new millionaires with nothing.

Speculative Financial Bubbles

Both the Mississippi Company and the South Sea Company are two of the biggest speculative bubbles in history, so their valuations are a little skewed. Especially because their premise was to trade with Americas, which both companies did very little of.

#1: Dutch East India Company: $7.9 Trillion (1632)

The Dutch East India Company is widely recognized as the largest company in history, and reached an inflation-adjusted market cap of almost $8 trillion and had more than 70,000 employees around the world in the 1600s.

The company sent ships to South and East Asia to bring cloves, nutmeg, and other luxuries to Europe and was awarded monopoly status by the Dutch government. Plus, the Dutch East India Co. benefited from the tulip bulb bubble in the 1630s, which increased demand and is widely regarded as the first—and one of the biggest—financial bubbles in history.

Records show that the company’s overall market value reached 78 million Dutch guilders in the early 1600s, making it nearly $8 trillion after adjusting for inflation. To put that in perspective, at its current valuation, Apple is roughly 12% of the overall value of the Dutch East India Company.

Company Valuations of Today’s Tech Giants

As the list shows, it’s very unlikely that Apple or any other company will ever exceed the inflation-adjusted market cap of the Dutch East India Company, but that’s because that company was a government-authorized monopoly.

However, in addition to Apple, over recent years a number of tech giants have emerged that dominate the landscape on the stock exchange and our personal lives. The valuation of these companies have exploded since the end of the Great Recession, though they still haven’t come close to some of the highest company valuations throughout history.

Some of the valuations of these companies as of August 2018 are:

  • Amazon: $894 Billion
  • Alphabet (Parent company of Google): $869 Billion
  • Facebook: $618 Billion
  • Netflix: $160 Billion
  • Microsoft: $840 Billion

Highest Valuation Companies (Non-Tech)

Some of the other American companies with the highest valuations outside of tech, as of June 2018, are:

  • Berkshire Hathaway: $491 Billion
  • JPMorgan Chase: $375.9 Billion
  • Johnson & Johnson: $350.2 Billion
  • ExxonMobil: $331.8 Billion
  • Bank of America: $307.1 Billion

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