Apple is No. 3, closing in on MicrosoftMarch 31, 2010: 6:34 AM ET
With its market cap at $213.9 billion, only two U.S. companies are bigger than Apple
Here's one way to measure Apple's (AAPL) progress in March, a month in which its stock price set 11 all-time highs.
On March 9, a few days after the company announced the iPad's ship date, Apple's market capitalization (share price times shares outstanding) was $198.5 billion, making it one of the five most valuable U.S. companies, right below Wal-Mart (WMT) and ahead of Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-A).
On Friday March 12, the day Apple began taking pre-orders for the iPad, its market cap hit $205.48 making it, briefly, the No. 3 U.S. company ahead of Wal-Mart -- a position it held for just one trading day.
On Tuesday March 30, following a report that it was building an iPhone for Verizon, its stock rose 1.5% to $235.85, its market cap hit $213.9 billion, and it overtook Wal-Mart once again to begin closing in on No. 2 Microsoft (MSFT). (See chart below the fold.)
Two weeks ago, Apple was $50 billion behind its oldest frenemy. On Wednesday morning, the gap was $47 billion. To close it, Apple would have to reach a share price of $288.
[UPDATE: Apple was up 3.73 points (1.58%) in early trading Thursday following a crop of positive iPad reviews, reducing the gap to about $42 billion and the target Apple has to hit to catch up to Microsoft to $284 a share.]
That's not out of the question. According to APPLinvestor's summary of analyst ratings, eight analysts have set targets of $280 or higher, and two of them -- Credit Suisse's Bill Shope and Citigroup's Richard Gardner -- are looking for Apple to hit $300 a share.
At $300 the company would have a market cap of $272 billion and be halfway to Exxon Mobil (XOM).
- Apple overtakes Wal-Mart
- Apple approaches $200 billion
- Apple sets iPad ship date; shares hit record high
[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]