Apple passes HP as largest tech company

Ten years ago Apple posted revenue of $5.3 billion, a mere gnat compared to the IBM elephant which topped all tech companies with sales of $85.8 billion.

Oh, how the tables have turned.

Apple's sales have now surpassed those of HP, IBM, and even AT&T and Verizon, two companies that helped propel Apple to top of the elite club of tech companies that have more than $100 billion in sales.

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The fiscal years of the largest tech companies don't neatly align so it requires a little work to get a sense of how they compare. Apple's fiscal 2011 ended Sept. 24, with the company posting $108 billion in revenue and $26 billion in net profits. But if you slide the 12 month view forward a quarter so it spans fiscal 2011 Q2, Q3, Q4 and the all important holiday month in Apple's 2012 fiscal Q1 (ended Dec. 31), the company recorded sales of $127.6 billion and profits of $32.8 billion.

That edges out HP as the top tech dog, which finished its fiscal 2011 year Oct. 31 with sales of $127.2 billion and an operating profit of $9.7 billion.

But that still leaves a little discrepancy in timing, so let’s dig deeper.  HP won’t announce its first quarter results (for the period ending Jan. 31) until later this month, nor does the company give sales guidance, but the consensus expectation of 25 analysts tracked by Bloomberg Businessweek is that sales will be down 5% for the quarter to $30.8 billion, meaning sales on a trailing 12-month basis as of the end of January will be $125.7 billion.  

Apple, on the other hand, has forecast sales will be up 32% in the next quarter, so a little math indicates sales on a trailing 12-month basis as of the end of January were $130.2 billion.  The baton has officially been passed.

And what of mighty IBM? Big Blue is on a calendar year and reported in late January that it finished 2011 with sales up 7% to $106.9 billion, some $20 billion behind Apple for the same 12-month period. And even though IBM can hold its head high because its lusty 15% profit margin dwarfs what HP squeezes out of sales, it can't hold a candle to Apple's 25% margin.

AT&T, for its part, racked up sales of $126.7 billion for the calendar year, just behind those of Apple. In its earnings release posted in late January, AT&T reported it activated more than 7.6 million iPhones in the fourth quarter, the majority of which were 4S phones that didn't even go on sale until Oct. 14. AT&T's total wireless subscriber base is now 103.2 million. Verizon is also in the $100 billion+ club, with 2011 sales of $110.9 billion and 108.7 million wireless subscribers.

All hail the new tech titan.

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