Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) and Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT) have become important benchmarks for the technology sector. The two mega corporations are both listed on the Dow Jones Industrial Average and are each uniquely positioned to dominate their respective industries.

While a strong case can be made for owning both stocks, which is the better investment? The answer isn’t as clear-cut as it once seemed.


Apple vs. Microsoft: Where They Stand

When looking at stock prices, Apple and Microsoft have both performed very well in 2019. AAPL closed at $218.75 a share on Friday, having gained 39% for the year. At those values, the company has a total market cap of $988.5 billion.

Apple Share Price YTD - Sep 15 2019

Source: Yahoo Finance

MSFT closed Friday’s session at $137.32. The stock has returned 36% so far this year and has a market cap of $1.05 trillion.

Microsoft Share Price YTD - Sep 15 2019

Source: Yahoo Finance

In terms of performance, it’s clearly a wash at this point. However, Microsoft has taken the reins from Apple as America’s most valuable company with its trillion-dollar market cap.

On the dividend front, Microsoft has a more established track record of payouts. The company has grown its yield in each of the last 15 years. Apple’s dividend yield is slightly higher but only spans the past six years. At this stage, though, investors shouldn’t be concerned about falling dividends.


Growth Drivers

As of August 2019, Microsoft’s Azure was the second-biggest cloud platform behind Amazon.

Over the past two decades, Apple has become synonymous with the smartphone revolution, with its iPhone product accounting for over half of total revenue in any given quarter. The company has flagged iPhone dominance as a limiting factor in its growth trend, and has prioritized diversifying its product categories. By Q3 2019, iPhone sales accounted for less than half of total revenue, with wearables, services and other hardware products taking bigger pieces of the pie.

Microsoft, on the other hand, has emerged as a dominant player in the cloud computing market, tapping into the all-important recurring revenue stream. As of August 2019, Microsoft’s Azure was the second-biggest cloud platform behind Amazon. The company continues to dominate the enterprise market with its Microsoft Office products.

The main difference between the two companies seems to be their target market. Microsoft is becoming an “ingredient brand” while Apple depends largely on the consumer. Which strategy is best suited for growth depends on how well Apple is able to tap into emerging markets after it became clear China couldn’t sustain massive iPhone sales.


The Bottom Line

Microsoft’s dramatic revival under CEO Satya Nadella has catapulted the company back to where it was when Bill Gates was at the helm. However, its trillion-dollar market cap has raised concerns about overvaluation. Apple, on the other hand, is considered undervalued relative to its market.

Apple may have the slight edge as far as value goes, but Microsoft is no slouch, either. Investors betting on enterprise cloud solutions may still find MSFT to be a better long-term play.

Disclaimer: Author holds no investment position in Apple or Microsoft at the time of writing.

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