Signage is displayed at an Apple retail store in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S. (Photographer: George Frey/Bloomberg)  

It’s Apple vs. Amazon in the Race to $1 Trillion

(Bloomberg) -- As we head into the heat of earnings season this week, two technology giants sit at the threshold of a monumental achievement: surpassing $1 trillion in market capitalization.

Apple Inc., still the world’s most valuable company, sported a $941 billion valuation at the end of trading on Friday. The iPhone maker reports its third quarter earnings results after the close of trading on July 31 and needs just a 6 percent increase in stock price to hurdle over the magical mile marker. Amazon, reporting on Thursday, is a few paces behind with an $880 billion market cap. Though it needs a 13 percent stock boost, it could conceivably get across the finish line first.

The potential photo finish could come down to the relative strength of their results.

To move the needle forward next week, Apple will need to show annual sales growth with its pricey, top-of-the-line iPhone X and to surpass 41 million iPhones sold during the third quarter last year. But in the past several years, the third quarter has been Apple's weakest for iPhone sales. Consumers know the company announces new iPhones every fall and often hold out for the very latest model or discounts to older ones.

It’s Apple vs. Amazon in the Race to $1 Trillion

Investors can still look for strong growth in Apple’s services business. This is the growing category that includes app sales, iCloud storage upgrades, video purchases and Apple Music subscriptions. It’s been a mega profitable bright spot in the company’s results and could be the key to propelling Apple over the $1 trillion mark.

Amazon analysts have a lot to look forward to in Thursday’s second quarter earnings report. Despite some technical glitches, the company pulled off a successful Prime Day last week, recording more than $4 billion in sales. If Prime Day was as good as the company suggests, its guidance for the coming fall quarter could surprise investors.

Another potentially catalyzing variable is the state of Amazon’s nascent advertising business, which it tucks into a broader category on its balance sheet called “Other.” Along with Amazon Web Services, advertising is becoming a high-margin element of a famously low-margin business and also has the potential to create even more optimism around the company.

Gluttonous Amazon investors, who have enjoyed 55 percent in gains this year, can also look at the company’s stock and dream of $2 trillion and beyond. It’s not that far-fetched. Amazon’s market share in many of its product categories is small, as Felix Salmon recently wrote in Wired, taking aim at claims of the company’s dominance. That also means there’s plenty of room for growth.

It’s Apple vs. Amazon in the Race to $1 Trillion

Events like Prime Day don’t only generate sales but bring new members to Prime—where their spending on the site tends to double. And as Amazon grows, it continually finances the construction of new fulfillment centers ever closer to customers, which in turn facilitates faster delivery and raises its prospects for succeeding with perishable foods.

Apple investors, too, have reasons to be excited beyond this quarter. While the smartphone market is relatively saturated, this fall Apple plans to expand the number of iPhone models with a trio of new designs, which will allow it to appeal to different sets of customers at different prices. Lowering the price of the entry-level iPhone will help it regain some of the footing it appears to have lost in lower income markets like India, where it recently suffered the defection of a leading executive. Apple investors and aficionados can also look forward to a coming augmented reality headset and a video-streaming service that might compete more broadly with the likes of Netflix and YouTube.

To be sure, this $1 trillion threshold that we in the media are so consumed with is a largely meaningless marker. Nothing fundamental has changed if a company is worth $999 billion one day and a little more the next. A full-blown trade war with China, or worse, could bring it all tumbling down. Psychologically, though, reaching the trillion-dollar mark would feel like a big deal, particularly as critics around the world wonder if the biggest tech companies are getting too big and powerful.

Come to think of it, as they sit on the precipice of $1 trillion, Amazon and Apple may be looking at each other with a rare expression of deference: “by all means, after you.” 

And here’s what you need to know in global technology

Peter Thiel goes to China. The conservative billionaire is looking at expanding his investment activities in the world’s largest internet market.

SoftBank is burrowing deeper into AI. The Vision Fund is finalizing a $1 billion investment in SenseTime Group Ltd., a China-based AI startup.

India has questions for WhatsApp. The country is delaying Facebook’s rollout of a WhatsApp payment system over privacy concerns.

New York City sued Airbnb. The Big Apple asked a judge to order the home-rental company to comply with a subpoena for information about its listings. It’s all-out war between the city and startup.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.