Apple’s (AAPL) fiscal fourth-quarter results earlier this week failed to push the gadget maker’s shares beyond their already dizzying heights, for now leaving Exxon Mobil (XOM) at the top of the list of the most valuable corporations.
But it may just be a matter of time before Apple overtakes Exxon, and if it does Apple’s genius marketer/CEO, Steve Jobs, will get most of the attention. Investors, however, might more wisely take a look at the stock in danger of being edged aside, Exxon.
Sure, Apple is the growth machine, creating demand for high-margin electronics. But Exxon, riding periodic oil price surges, racks up some nice growth itself every now and then. And despite what we hear about the world’s oil and gas reserves soon being tapped out, Exxon finds and pumps more all the time, with a 6% increase in production during the first half of 2010. Exxon’s acquisition of XTO Energy makes if the top U.S. natural gas producer.
On two measures of how cheap a stock is, a dollar of Exxon profits costs about half the price of a dollar of Apple profits, if you’re buying the shares.
And Exxon actually shares the profits, paying out a rising dividend.
The yield on Exxon’s dividend is decent.
But where it really funnels cash back to shareholders is with stock buybacks. From 2005-2008, the heyday of U.S. buybacks, Exxon spent about $115 billion on its shares.
Both companies are amazingly profitable, but Exxon more so, and its wealth comes from controlling huge amounts of a scarce resource. Apple’s come from inventing amazingly cool gadgets that people are willing to pay premium prices for. Exxon could run out of oil and gas in decades. Apple could flop with its next gadget, or perhaps invent several more that are even cooler than the iPad. Plus, they have Google (GOOG), Microsoft (MSFT) and Intel (INTC) trying desperately to figure out how to stop the Apple growth engine.
Apple and Exxon are both fabulous companies. One’s just so much cheaper.