FOLLOWING blockbuster holiday-season quarterly results, Apple shares surged well above the $500 mark, turning the California-based computer giant into the largest company in the world by market capitalisation.
Apple surpassed Exxon Mobil briefly last summer but the oil producer then regained its lead. Apple shares rose above $540 on February 28, pushing the company's value above the historic $500 billion benchmark.
Apple was riding on the results sentiment and anticipated product introduction – as the IT world went abuzz with rumors about the imminent launch of iPad 3.
Investors' confidence did not seem to be affected by bad publicity Apple had to face following reports about substandard working conditions in the Foxconn-owned factories in China where its products are produced.
The iPhone maker joined the Fair Labor Association (FLA) in January, and in February granted the FLA access to inspect assembly lines in the Foxconn factories, which the FLA reported to be better than average in China.
Contrary to expectations, a TV documentary produced by ABC, that gained access to the factory floor, did not reveal any shocking working conditions.
Apple found itself in the middle of the controversy despite being the only major electronics maker to allow independent inspections of its Chinese facilities.
Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft and Sony have so far resisted calls for greater transparency involving the factories of their China-based manufacturing contractors.
But the publicity driven by Apple helped to raise awareness about working conditions in China and led Foxconn to raise salaries of its employees by 16 to 25%, a third increase since 2010.