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Time Machine: Apple vs. Microsoft vs. IBM over the Last 20 Years

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A decade ago, if you asked someone how they would get rich off of a time travel machine, a fairly common answer would be to go back in time and buy shares of Microsoft after its 1986 IPO.

While this is still a great answer today, the value of the software giant actually peaked back in 1999 with a market capitalization of $613 billion. Microsoft today is worth far less at only $443 billion – and after adjusting for inflation, that makes it worth around half of its peak value in 1999.

That raises the question – if we were to go back 20 years in time today, which company would be the best buy?

Stockchoker, a website that shows you the hypothetical value of stocks that you could have bought, covers this exact premise in an interactive visualization. Starting with $1,000 on January 1, 1996, the visualization shows the value of this money invested in each of Microsoft, IBM, and Apple.

Let’s start by looking at Jan 1, 2000 on the timeline, near Microsoft’s peak market cap:

IBM vs. Apple vs. Microsoft

Four years after the initial investment, Microsoft has returned an impressive 80% per year. Meanwhile, IBM is also growing fast at a clip of about 48% per annum, and Apple is working to reinvent itself as a company. Keep in mind the release of the iPod has not happened yet – that would occur to much fanfare in 2001.

IBM vs. Apple vs. Microsoft

Close to ten years later, the reinvented Apple is a success story. The iPod is flying off the shelves, and computer sales have increased dramatically. Although Microsoft still has the lead in terms of market valuation, the launch of the iPhone in 2006 would change everything.

IBM vs. Apple vs. Microsoft

Finally, we’ve reached mid-2015. Apple is now primarily in competition with Google (which IPO’d in 2004) for the most valuable company in the world. The $1,000 invested in Apple in 1996 is now worth a hefty $117,413 for a return of over 100x.

Want to travel back in time and watch this for yourself? Visit the interactive visualization by clicking here.

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Markets

The Dominance of U.S. Companies in Global Markets

U.S.-based companies have a heavy weighting in global equity markets. In most industries, their market capitalization exceeds 50% of the total.

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U.S. Companies Dominate Global Markets

Are global indexes as “global” as you think they are?

With the aim of tracking market performance around the world, these indexes incorporate securities from various regions. However, while the number of securities may be relatively well diversified across countries, a dollar perspective tells a different story. When market capitalization is taken into account, country weightings may become much more unbalanced.

Today’s visualization is based on a concept by S&P Dow Jones Indices that shows the percentage of U.S.-based companies in global sectors and industries as of December 31, 2019. The calculations reflect the market capitalization of companies in the S&P Global Broad Market Index (BMI), an index that tracks over 11,000 stocks across 50 developed and emerging economies.

Percentage of U.S. Companies by Sector

U.S-based companies—those that maintain their primary business affairs in the U.S.—are a major component of many global sectors and industries.

Here’s how it breaks down:

Sector% of U.S.-based CompaniesMost U.S.-heavy Subsector
Information technology73%Software (86%)
Health care65%Health care providers (82%)
Utilities53%Electric utilities (57%)
Real estate51%Equity REITs (69%)
Consumer discretionary49%Specialty retail (73%)
Consumer staples46%Household products (74%)
Industrials46%Aerospace & defense (73%)
Energy44%Energy - other (73%)
Financials44%Financials - other (73%)
Materials30%Chemicals (41%)

U.S.-based companies make up a staggering 73% of the information technology (IT) sector. However, China may soon threaten this dominance. The Made in China 2025 plan highlights new-generation IT as a priority sector for the country.

The U.S. is still the world’s leader, but China is coming up very fast.

Rebecca Fannin, Journalist & Author of Tech Titans of China

Healthcare is also heavily skewed towards U.S-based stocks, which make up 65% of the sector’s market capitalization. This weighting is perhaps not surprising given the success of many U.S. healthcare companies. In Fortune’s list of the 500 most profitable U.S. companies, 41 healthcare organizations made the cut.

The materials sector has the smallest weighting of U.S.-based stocks, but they still account for almost one-third of the overall market capitalization. Three American companies are in the sector’s top 10 holdings: Air Products & Chemicals, Ecolab, and Sherwin-Williams.

U.S. Equity Views in a Global Context

Given the high weighting of U.S. stocks in global sectors and industries, having a U.S. view is important. This refers to investors gaining a clear perspective on the risks and opportunities that exist in the country. Investors can consider the trends influencing American companies in order to help explain stock performance.

U.S. stock dominance also impacts geographic diversification. While it helps non-U.S. investors overcome their home bias, American investors may want to consider targeting specific international markets for well-rounded exposure.

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Finance

Intangible Assets: A Hidden but Crucial Driver of Company Value

Intangible assets – such as goodwill and intellectual property – have rapidly risen in importance compared to tangible assets like cash.

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valuing intangible assets

Intangible Assets Take Center Stage

View the high resolution version of this infographic by clicking here

In 2018, intangible assets for S&P 500 companies hit a record value of $21 trillion. These assets, which are not physical in nature and include things like intellectual property, have rapidly risen in importance compared to tangible assets like cash.

Today’s infographic from Raconteur highlights the growth of intangible asset valuations, and how senior decision-makers view intangibles when making investment decisions.

Tracking the Growth of Intangibles

Intangibles used to play a much smaller role than they do now, with physical assets comprising the majority of value for most enterprise companies. However, an increasingly competitive and digital economy has placed the focus on things like intellectual property, as companies race to out-innovate one another.

To measure this historical shift, Aon and the Ponemon Institute analyzed the value of intangible and tangible assets over nearly four and a half decades on the S&P 500. Here’s how they stack up:

Intangible vs. Tangible Assets

Source: Aon

In just 43 years, intangibles have evolved from a supporting asset into a major consideration for investors – today, they make up 84% of all enterprise value on the S&P 500, a massive increase from just 17% in 1975.

The Largest Companies by Intangible Value

Digital-centric sectors, such as internet & software and technology & IT, are heavily reliant on intangible assets.

Brand Finance, which produces an annual ranking of companies based on intangible value, has companies in these sectors taking the top five spots on the 2019 edition of their report.

RankCompanySectorTotal Intangible ValueShare of Enterprise Value
1MicrosoftInternet & Software$904B90%
2AmazonInternet & Software$839B93%
3AppleTechnology & IT$675B77%
4AlphabetInternet & Software$521B65%
5FacebookInternet & Software$409B79%
6AT&TTelecoms$371B84%
7TencentInternet & Software$365B88%
8Johnson & JohnsonPharma$361B101%
9VisaBanking$348B100%
10AlibabaInternet & Software$344B86%
11NestleFood$313B89%
12Procter & GambleCosmetics & Personal Care$305B101%
13Anheuser-Busch InBevBeers$304B99%
14VerizonTelecoms$300B83%
15ComcastMedia$276B92%
16MastercardBanking$259B99%
17NovartisPharma$252B101%
18WalmartRetail$252B68%
19UnitedhealthHealthcare$245B94%
20PfizerPharma$235B98%

Note: Percentages may exceed 100% due to rounding.

Microsoft overtook Amazon for the top spot in the ranking for 2019, with $904B in intangible assets. The company has the largest commercial cloud business in the world.

Pharma and healthcare companies are also prominent on the list, comprising four of the top 20. Their intangible value is largely driven by patents, as well as mergers and acquisitions. Johnson & Johnson, for example, reported $32B in patents and trademarks in their latest annual report.

A Lack of Disclosure

It’s important to note that Brand Finance’s ranking is based on both disclosed intangibles—those that are reported on a company’s balance sheet—and undisclosed intangibles. In the ranking, undisclosed intangibles were calculated as the difference between a company’s market value and book value.

The majority of intangibles are not reported on balance sheets because accounting standards do not recognize them until a transaction has occurred to support their value. While many accounting managers see this as a prudent measure to stop unsubstantiated asset values, it means that many highly valuable intangibles never appear in financial reporting. In fact, 34% of the total worth of the world’s publicly traded companies is made up of undisclosed value.

“It is time for CEOs, CFOs, and CMOs to start a long overdue reporting revolution.”

—David Haigh, CEO of Brand Finance

Brand Finance believes that companies should regularly value each intangible asset, including the key assumptions management made when deriving their value. This information would be extremely useful for managers, investors, and other stakeholders.

A Key Consideration

Investment professionals certainly agree on the importance of intangibles. In a survey of institutional investors by Columbia Threadneedle, it was found that 95% agreed that intangible assets contain crucial information about the future strength of a company’s business model.

Moreover, 98% agree that more transparency would be beneficial to their assessment of intangible assets. In the absence of robust reporting, Columbia Threadneedle believes active managers are well equipped to understand intangible asset values due to their access to management, relationships with key opinion leaders, and deep industry expertise.

By undertaking rigorous analysis, managers may uncover hidden competitive advantages—and generate higher potential returns in the process.

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