A tale of two stock charts: Apple's long road to $300

Shares stagnated for a decade before return of Steve Jobs in 1997, then caught fire

When Apple Inc. reports its fourth-quarter results next Monday, it will do so in the afterglow of a milestone for the company's stock.

Shares of the consumer electronics and personal computer giant climbed above $300 for the first time Wednesday, nearly 30 years after Apple's initial public offering in December 1980.

I was looking at Apple's historical stock chart, which can be viewed here, and something immediately jumped out: Apple's stock history can be divided into two clear periods -- the early years, from the IPO through Steve Jobs's long absence from the company after losing a power struggle in 1985, and the modern Jobs era, which began on September 16, 1997, when the company co-founder was named interim CEO and spearheaded a new golden era.

If you check out the chart below, you'll see a stock that had great success through 1987. For the next 10 years, however, Apple shares plateaued and eventually declined to 3.56 in June 1997 from 17.00 in March 1991. That's a huge drop and a long slide. (All of these stock prices are split-adjusted, by the way.)

Now look at what happened to Apple shares after Jobs retook control in the fall of 1997 (indicated by my crude Paint-drawn vertical line). From a price of 5.42 in September of that year, the stock has climbed to more than $300 some 13 years later. It can hardly be a coincidence.

Granted, it hasn't been all uphill -- like nearly every technology stocks, Apple endured a rough few years after the Internet bubble burst in March 2000, and had another (briefer) down-slide in the second half of 2008, during the severe recession. Nonetheless, if you had purchased $10,000 of Apple stock the same month that Jobs again began leading the company, your shares would be worth $554,000 today. Not a bad return on the investment.

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