Apple now worth nearly $500 billion

Company now one of only five to ever have been this valuable

Apple is on the verge of becoming a $500 billion company.

Apple's stock (NASDAQ: AAPL) closed Tuesday at an all-time high of 535.41, giving the iPhone maker a market capitalization of $497.6 billion at the bell.

In pre-market trading Wednesday, shares ticked up to 537.54, which CNNMoney reported gave Apple a $500 billion valuation.

Not quite. That price times Apple's 929,409,000 outstanding shares gives the company a market cap of $499.59 billion. To top $500 billion, Apple shares need to reach 537.98.

Which they just might do in Wednesday's regular session. Even if they don't, CNNMoney notes, Apple already is "in some extremely exclusive territory, making it one of the five most-valuable companies at any point in history. Only Microsoft, ExxonMobil, Cisco and General Electric have ever surpassed that mark."

Which should serve as a warning to Apple shareholders who believe the value of their investment can only continue to increase. Not only did Microsoft once have a market cap above $500 billion, it's the only public company whose value ever exceeded $600 billion.

That was back in late 1999, when the biggest concern among IT professionals was Y2K and only the graphics geek hidden in a remote cubicle of your company's office had a Mac. Today Microsoft's market cap is $268 billion. Still pretty hefty, but less than half of its previous value.

Apple's valuation also now exceeds the gross domestic product of numerous countries, CNNMoney points out. Among the nations Apple could invade if it really wanted to are Belgium, Poland, Sweden and Taiwan.

But Apple's awesomeness doesn't stop there. According to the Tumblr blog Things Apple Is Worth More Than, curated by Downtown Josh Brown (and linked to by CNNMoney), as well as some data provided by me, Apple also is worth more than:

* The total amount spent ($477 billion) to build the U.S. interstate highway system

* Worldwide lottery sales ($240 billion in 2009)

* The global coffee industry ($70 billion)

* My belt collection ($25)

* American obesity (economic cost $300 billion)

Sadly, given current trends, I think that last one could someday challenge Apple. And I probably should buy some more belts.

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