Apple: What it's like to drown in cash

  @FortuneMagazine May 7, 2013: 8:53 AM ET
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As the power and breadth of the Fortune 500 goes on display in this issue, one of its best-known companies, Apple, stands out for so many reasons they are barely countable. In the list itself, Apple is the star, unchallenged. Once a tag-along, it has mountain-climbed to No. 6, with $156.5 billion in revenues. Its 2012 profits were an eye-popping $42 billion (second only to Exxon's $45 billion); its market value of $416 billion led all others at our March measurement date, and it has a pure monopoly on 10-year shareholder returns: first in earnings-per-share growth, with an incandescent annual rate of 86%, and first in total return, with an annual 54%.

Yet in the real world of early 2013, Apple looks both battered and confused. It is starring, so to speak, in two Wall Street movies that feature Bond-like suspense, with no certainty of happy endings. One movie turns on the convulsions in Apple's stock: the zoom in 2012 to $700 per share; the plunge within months to a range around $450; a wild dip in mid-April to -- wow! -- $385. Good theater, for sure (unless you happen to be a shareholder who bought a high-priced ticket to the show).

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