A:

Back in late August 2012, Apple’s (AAPL) stock price reached nearly $700 per share. The stock has since split but has yet to reach the market capitalization of $650 billion it did at its peak in 2012, which happened to make it one of the most expensive stocks of all time. More recently, the market capitalization has fallen back to below $600 billion.

At the time Apple was reaching its peak market cap, controversy surrounded whether this made it the most valuable stock of all time. Back in 2000, Chinese energy giant PetroChina (PTR) reached an estimated market value of around $1 trillion during its IPO. However, this included counting shares not publicly traded in the total share count calculation. As with Apple, PetroChina has yet to return to this high level.

Back in December 1999, software titan Microsoft (MSFT) reached a market capitalization of $600 billion which, when adjusting for the effects of inflation on values over time, likely made it the most valuable company of all time. Today, its market cap stands well below $400 billion. Similarly, Internet plumbing and router provider Cisco (CSCO) reached a market cap of $500 billion, just as the Nasdaq was peaking in value in March 2000. Its market cap today is barely above $100 billion.

The above discussion is based on market capitalization. The highest price stock of all time easily goes to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A). The share price is just high of $190,000 per share and stands just below its all-time high closer to $195,000. Thanks to spectacular shareholder gains and the idiosyncrasies of its founder, this share value is unlikely to be matched by anything other than continued gains in Berkshire’s share price.

The Bottom Line

On a pure market value measure, Apple is the most valuable company of all time. Someday, another company’s market cap will exceed $650 billion. Berkshire Hathaway is the highest stock price of all time and will likely remain so forever.

At the time of writing Ryan C. Fuhrmann was long shares of MSFT and CSCO, but did not own shares in any of the other companies mentioned in this article.

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