Amazon and Microsoft are getting big-time press from their turn as the most valuable companies by Wall Street's measure. But market capitalization comes and goes, and it doesn't measure a company's good jobs or attention to environmental or social issues.
On Monday, Amazon became the most valuable company in America measured by market capitalization. It unseated Microsoft, which had held the title for about a month.
Not bad for a town that once depended on shipyards, canneries, railroads – and the great good fortune of being the home of Boeing.
If the Seahawks can’t go to the Super Bowl, at least metropolitan Seattle has brought home this trophy for a week, or who knows how long …
The market has been, until recently, madly in love with the shares of technology companies, and Seattle boasts two of the five big tech firms.
Amazon and Microsoft have been battling Bay Area tech giants Apple, Google parent Alphabet, and Facebook to have these bragging rights. But what does market cap really mean?
It is the sum value of all outstanding shares of a public company. Investors look to market cap as one imperfect indicator of a company’s prospects. The swoon of tech shares since October puts the exclamation point on the word imperfect.
But, as I’ve pointed out before, market cap doesn’t necessarily correspond to other metrics by which a company should be valued by society. Among these are the number of full-time employees or the range of employees covered by high quality benefits, including healthcare and pensions. A high market cap may or may not correspond to a company’s sustainable ability to innovate, much less whether it would be what most Americans consider a highly valuable company — in other words, its value to the national good beyond the quick rush of one number that beguiles Wall Street. The imperative to preserve that number often prevents a company from investing in long-term viability. Instead, short-term stock price gains, even if they come by cannibalizing the future, are the name of the game.
Thus, Amazon stock finished Monday trading up 3.4 percent at $1,629.51 per share. This was the first time Amazon became the market cap leader. And Tuesday it edged up another 1.7 percent. To be sure, Amazon did not reach Apple’s historic one trillion dollar market cap in the more bullish days of October, though it did nudge one trillion dollars in midday trading before closing below that number in September.
At least Amazon is a large employer, albeit one with a high-stress corporate culture. Microsoft employs more than 50,000 in the Puget Sound region, also a large footprint. Yet many tech stars have relatively small workforces.
By contrast, major employers such as Boeing, General Motors and Caterpillar have comparatively small market caps. For example, Boeing’s market cap Tuesday was about $193 billion.
The unfortunate reality is that when it comes to measuring what’s important to average Americans about corporate America, there’s nothing comparable to the horse-race metric tracking market cap. Fortune magazine puts out an annual list of the One Hundred Best Companies to Work For (the fine company for which I work would have called the report “One Hundred Best Companies for Which to Work,” but never mind all that).
The quality of these lists varies significantly. But even the best of them usually comes out only once a year.
With enough time to seek out gold-standard reports, employees, job seekers and investors could find companies that turn in the best performance on climate change, environmental impacts, community contributions and obeying the law. None of this information is followed with the maniacal fervor of each day’s market cap.
I suppose this is to be expected in sports-mad America, a nation that loves its games and is hungry for distraction in this time of crisis.
In the period for which many long, the America of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, stock market performance was not in such tension with sustaining the jobs and security that were the backbone of an ever-growing middle class. That was then.