Apple Inc briefly edged past Exxon Mobil Corp to become the most valuable U.S. company on Tuesday, displacing an old economy stalwart and heralding an era where technology holds sway.
Although Apple slipped back to the No. 2 spot after the close, market watchers said it is simply a matter of time before the company that defined the smartphone and tablet markets with the iPhone and iPad ascends the top.
The technology giant's market value rose on Tuesday to $341.5 billion in severely choppy afternoon trading, just above Exxon's $341.4 billion, even though the oil major's annual revenue is four times that of Apple's.
Exxon quickly regained the No. 1 spot as its shares rose and Apple's shed some of their gains, with stocks globally remaining volatile because of soft economic data and the downgrading of the United States' sovereign credit on Friday.
Exxon ended on Tuesday with a market cap of $348.3 billion followed by Apple at $346.7 billion.
The potential changing of the guard, which is largely symbolic, reflects the influence and power of certain industries over the U.S. economy in different points in time.
"Technology is what people understand now," said Robert Pavlik, chief market strategist at Banyan Partners. "At some point it used to be the radio, before that it was trains. So I think it's sort of indicative of our society."
Tuesday's move by Apple, which for a short time ended Exxon Mobil's run of more than five years at the top, capped a remarkable turnaround for a company that once teetered on the brink before Apple CEO Steve Jobs returned to resuscitate the enterprise he co-founded.
Thirteen years ago, some analysts said Apple's value consisted of real estate holdings and cash on hand.
Apple joined, albeit briefly, a group of nine companies that have held the top spot in the S&P 500, including General Electric Co, General Motors, IBM Corp, Microsoft Corp and AT&T Inc, DuPont, Philip Morris Cos and Wal-Mart Stores Inc, according to Standard & Poor's Index Analytics.