Is Apple the tail that wags the U.S. economy?

October 27, 2014, 2:26 PM UTC

Jeff Sommer rattled off some impressive stats in his Sunday New York Times column:

  • Apple is the biggest company, by market capitalization, in the world.
  • Apple accounts for about 3.5% of the weighting of the S.&P. 500
  • Apple accounted for 18% of the entire rise of the S.&P. 500 this year
  • Apple iPhone sales are adding 1/4 to 1/3 of a percentage point to the annualized growth rate of the U.S. GDP, according to Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist for JPMorgan Chase


Sommer treats Apple as if it were a one-product company, and it’s hard to fault him. After all, the iPhone accounts for more than half of Apple’s revenue and, according to Bernstein’s Toni Sacconaghi, between 60% and 70% of its profits.

Sommer also takes pains to point out that the average selling price of the 39 million iPhones Apple sold last quarter was $603, and that the profit margin on those sales was nearly 50%.

By his accounting, the iPhone — by itself — is the tail that wags the U.S. economy.

For another point of view, consider CNBC’s Phone 6 won’t be a boost to GDP, published three weeks earlier.

Using a stat I’m not familiar with — the Bureau of Economic Activity’s report on telephone and fax equipment consumption — Paul Dales, an economist at Capital Economics, concludes that iPhone 6 sales, strong as they were, won’t have a meaningful impact on the U.S. economy. By his estimate, less than 0.01% of GDP.

Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter at @philiped. Read his Apple (AAPL) coverage at or subscribe via his RSS feed.