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Apple could become world’s most-valuable company

Yesterday, Apple announced its earnings for the third quarter of 2011, which, it turns out, was the best quarter in Apple’s history.

With revenue up 82 percent and profits up an astounding 125 percent — Apple made a net profit of $7.31 billion during the last three months alone — the computer maker’s earnings far exceeded analyst expectations. Sales of iPhones rocked 142 percent; iPad sales rocketed 183 percent. All of this good news resulted in a 4 percent pop in Apple’s stock, to an all-time high of $394 per share. Today, it’s up even higher.

This kind of growth has pushed Apple to a market capitalization of $364 billion. At the value, Apple is the second most-valuable in the world, after oil giant Exxon Mobile, which currently has a market cap of $412 billion. That leaves a mere $50 billion gap between the market value of the two companies.

Now, as others have noted, Apple has some serious hurtles to clear in order to catch up with Exxon. The tallest of which is the fact that much of the products, tools and services on which we rely run on, or are made of, petroleum. In other words, people need oil. They do not need an iPhone 5 (at least not in the same way).  Another major challenge in Apple’s path is that Exxon is steadily growing, too, so it must aim at a moving target.

Despite these obstacles, the outlook for Apple is good. The company’s Chief Financial Officer, Peter Oppenheimer, said during Apple’s earning call that it promises earnings of $5.50 per share on $25 billion in sales for the fourth quarter. That’s good, but it’s likely not as good as what Apple will actually deliver — Oppenheimer told investors to expect earnings of $5.03 per share for the third quarter, but the company actually delivered $7.79 per diluted share.

None of this ensures Apple’s dominance, of course. But it’s at least possible that we could see Apple, currently the world’s most valuable tech company, become the leader of them all.