In an article for Barrons that I came across last month, several analysts from JP Morgan did some rough calculations to how "big" Apple is compared to the rest of the private economy.
Looking at the S&P 500 index, Apple by itself would be the sixth largest industry. As of February 2012, Apple by itself accounted for ~10% of the year to date growth of the S&P.
Some further takeaways:
1. Apple is the largest stock in the S&P 500!
2. On the S&P 500, Apple by itself is larger than the insurance industry, the food retailing industry, the financial services industry, and the media industry. It is basically the same size as the entire IT services industry!
3. As a sector, Apple is larger than 3 of the top 10 sectors on the S&P, including Materials, Utilities, and Telecom!
So, what does this mean exactly?
It means that Apple has created a significant amount of value for its shareholders, despite, as the article points out, its relatively low penetration into smartphones (19%) and PCs (5%). Apple is developing products and services that people want to buy, and they are willing to buy them at a very high profit margin for Apple.
I would say it is obvious that the products provide a high level of utility for the consumer. But they also must elicit a positive emotional response. Consumers must "feel" good buying the products, using the products, touching the products, and looking at the products. And Apple invests a tremendous amount in research and development, enough to make a movie like Avatar every month according to one source that I read. Apple pays attention to detail. So, is there a correlation between tremendous upfront investment, "taking your time" during the design process, and focusing on aesthetics and usability? Being detail-oriented to create elegant products? The markets point to yes.
When looking at the market, every other company is an Orange (2012)