Slide Show | October 2012

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The World's Biggest Companies Over the Past 20 Years

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Is Apple, the world's most valuable company, on its way toward an unprecedented market capitalization of $1 trillion? Or is Mapplegate, the fiasco surrounding the error-filled map app on Apple's new iPhone, a sign that the aura surrounding Apple and its seemingly bulletproof stock is starting to dissipate. If Apple were to fall from its lofty perch, it certainly wouldn't be a shock, because, let’s face it, it's tough to hold on to the top spot. Companies go in and out of fashion. Stock prices rise and fall. Consider that Microsoft became number one in September 1998 when its market value was a lofty $282 billion; as of October 3, it's valued at $250 billion. In September 1993, General Electric hit the alpha-spot with $84 billion; its current market cap is $242 billion.

Over the past 20 years, seven companies have held the number-one spot in market value. How did they make it to the top, why did they fall, and which companies supplanted them? Have a look. (Please note: the periods at the top reflect broad ranges and don't take into account brief reversals due to small, temporary changes in share prices.)

The World's Biggest Companies Over the Past 20 Years
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