Contrary to most reports, Apple is not yet the most valuable company of all time, according to calculations made by the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR).
The publication, operated by the Columbia School of Journalism, called out multiple media reports today that touted Apple's massive market capitalization.
Stories published by the likes of Bloomberg, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal ran headlines such as "Apple sets record for most valuable company," noted the CJR's Audit blog.
But they were wrong, the press watchdog contended.
"Apple is not the biggest or most valuable company in history--not by a long shot," argued CJR. "Apple's $622 billion market cap is a nominal record, which means 'in name only,' or alternatively, not really. That's because it's a record only if you don't adjust Microsoft's 1999 market cap for inflation. Sorry, but you have to adjust any number like this that's that old for inflation -- it's comparing apples to oranges not to do so."
According to data from S&P Dow Jones Indices, Microsoft's market capitalization -- the value of all outstanding shares -- peaked at $620.6 billion in December 1999.
Apple's market cap was $622.5 billion at the end of trading Monday. It had been even higher earlier in the day.
But when adjusted for inflation -- it requires $1.38 in 2012 dollars to equal $1 in 1999 dollars -- Microsoft's $620.6 billion balloons to $853.4 billion, or over $200 billion more than Apple's current cap.
Apple has been on a roll lately: Last Friday its stock closed at a then-record high of $648 a share, which set Apple's value above $600 billion for the first time.
At Monday's market close, Apple's share was up $17 per share for the day, an increase of 2.6%, setting yet another record.
But that did not mean it was the world's most valuable firm ever, said the CJR.
"This is one of those unfortunate instances when the press desire for truth bumps into its need for news -- and 'records' make for better news than non-records," the CJR chided.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.