Apple loses world's most valuable company crown

Apple shares extended their losses Friday, ending a miserable week for the California tech giant as it surrendered its position as the world's biggest company based on market value.

Apple ended down 2.36 percent at $439.88, giving it a market capitalization of $413 billion, while oil giant ExxonMobil rose 0.36 percent to $91.68 with a market cap of $418 billion to edge into first place.

Apple first overtook ExxonMobil in August 2011 as the most valuable company in the world based on the value of its stock.

A year later, Apple dethroned longtime rival Microsoft as the most valuable company in history based on the value of its stock at $622 billion.

But the company took a bruising this week after a gloomy forecast accompanying its record quarterly profit announcement prompted pessimism over the tech giant's slowing growth trajectory.

Apple's profit was $13.1 billion on revenue of $54.5 billion in the fiscal quarter that ended on December 29, with sales of iPhones and iPads setting quarterly highs.

But despite those figures, investors soured on Apple after it forecast that revenue for the current quarter would range from $41-43 billion and that it would have a gross margin of 37.5 to 39.5 percent, lower than expectations.

Analysts remained cautious about Apple, which had seen a meteoric rise last September to over $700 a share but slid 37 percent since then. The company shed some $60 billion on Thursday and around $10 billion more Friday.

Some express concern that Apple has lost its edge in innovation since the death of co-founder Steve Jobs, and is losing ground to rivals such as Samsung, which leads the mobile phone market, and to others using Google's Android operating system.

Jinho Cho at Mirae Asset Securities said Apple will likely increase carrier subsidies in 2013 and launch an "entry-level" iPhone to compete better in emerging markets.

"These moves by Apple should lead to stiffer competition for greater carrier subsidies among smartphone makers, thus driving down handset industry-wide operating margins," the analyst said.

Getting into smartphone price wars would break from Apple's long tradition of premium products aimed at the high end of the market and bite into profit made from each device sold.

"While we are incrementally more positive on the stock, we also mention that competition is increasing for the company," Colin Gillis at BGC Financial said in a research note.

"We see competitors are using price as a lever to get traction in the market. Apple may also run into difficulty posting both the volumes and maintaining its prices over the next several quarters."

Investors are also known for letting emotion influence stock trading decisions.

Late co-founder Jobs was a maestro at dazzling the world by over-delivering on innovations and blinding people to slips.

Since the death of Jobs last year, Apple has fallen short of high expectations for Siri artificial intelligence software for iPhones and smartphone mapping software so flawed that the company apologized.

Apple meanwhile released an update to an ongoing audit of working conditions at facilities in China.

"We're fixing problems and tackling issues that our entire industry faces, such as excessive work hours and underage labor," the report said.

"We're going deeper into the supply chain than any other company we know of, and we're reporting at a level of detail that is unparalleled in our industry."

Apple tracks work hours for more than a million workers across its supply chain and publishes results monthly at its website.

The company reported a 92 percent compliance rate with keeping work weeks to 60 hours or less last year, with the average number of hours worked in a week being less than 50.

Eight facilities were found to have bonded labor. Suppliers had to pay back $6.4 million in foreign contract worker fees and implement procedures to make sure the practice was stopped, Apple indicated.

Eleven facilities were found to have underage workers.

One supplier used dozens of underage workers backed with forged documents, prompting Apple to cut its business relationship and make the company send the children back to school and finance their educations, according to the report.

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