How Apple Reached a $1 Trillion Market Cap

Following the company's winding road

This story originally ran on PitchBook.

For a brief but brilliant moment Thursday, Apple became the first US publicly traded company to achieve a market cap of $1 trillion. That's good for No. 17 in nominal GDP this year, behind Indonesia and just ahead of the Netherlands, per the International Monetary Fund.

Alas, by market close, the tech titan had returned to the slightly more modest market cap of $962.6 billion, representing a 3 percent gain in share price for the day. Fortunately, there's always tomorrow. And the forces that propelled Apple to such stratospheric heights, where only ecommerce giant Amazon can also breathe such rarefied air, will still apply.

Apple reported meaty fiscal 3Q results earlier this week, driven, in essence, by CEO Tim Cook's success at turning the device-maker into an entire ecosystem. Investors have rewarded the company's growing software and services revenue with its hefty valuation of late. Those offerings include a grab bag comprising the App Store, AppleCare, Apple Pay, iTunes and iCloud, which collectively hit a record for revenue at nearly $9.6 billion last quarter.

That growth is good news. After all, it has taken years for Apple to get here, and staying at or above a $1 trillion market cap would be difficult under normal circumstances. But going forward, Apple must also confront a myriad of challenges to its supply chain amid the escalating trade war between the US, where the company largely designs its devices, and China, where those devices largely get made. And the company's recent efforts to build out its services division represents only part of that story, as Apple moves to take more direct control over its supply chain and more firmly establish itself in China itself through strategic investments into clean energy.

Earlier this year, Apple announced that it would contribute funds to help revolutionize the 130-year-old aluminum smelting process—high tech, I know—with the goal of eliminating direct greenhouse gas emissions. And just last month, Apple, along with several of its suppliers, agreed to invest nearly $300 million over the next four years into the China Clean Energy Fund. The capital will be deployed on projects that will produce a total of 1 GW of renewable energy, enough to power almost 1 million homes. DWS, an arm of Deutsche Bankthat specializes in sustainable investments, is managing the fund as well as investing in it.

These moves complement Apple's ongoing evolution under Cook into its own ecosystem anchored by the iPhone, as demonstrated by this timeline tracing its recent history:

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