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Microsoft beats GE market cap

The companies had been running neck and neck to become the U.S. company with the largest market value, but the software giant prevails.

Microsoft today surpassed General Electric as the nation's most valuable company.

The two had been running neck and neck in recent weeks.

It is another sign of the strength of Microsoft's stock, which has jumped

Top Ten Market Caps
Company (ticker) Market Value (billions)
Microsoft $261.2
General Electric $257.4
Exxon $171.9
Merck & Co. $157.2
Coca-Cola $156.1
Pfizer $144.6
Intel $144.2
Wal-Mart Stores $137.8
IBM $120.5
Philip Morris $107.0
Source: Bloomberg
more than 52 percent this year despite fighting an antitrust lawsuit and repeatedly warning Wall Street of slowing growth.

It also is a reminder of the growing role of technology companies in the economy. Microsoft is a "20-something" year-old company, while GE traces its roots to Thomas Edison in 1878.

Microsoft stock closed at 106 today, up 1.75, giving it a market value of $261.2 billion. GE lost 0.1250 to close the day at 79.125, giving it a market value of $257.4 billion.

Microsoft has been gaining on GE throughout the year. Earlier this year, Microsoft broke into the $200 billion "market cap" club, joining GE as the only other company in this elite category. While Microsoft's stock is up more than 52 percent this year, GE's stock is up about 24 percent.

"[Market cap is] just a number, and we're all fixated on numbers these days," said Chris Galvin, an analyst with investment banking firm Hambrecht & Quist. "Microsoft is definitely the most important technology company in the world, and as the tech industry becomes a larger part [of the economy], it makes a little bit of sense."

Earlier this month, Microsoft's value surpassed that of GE during midday trading, but GE finished the day on top. In late July, Newsweek financial columnist Allan Sloan calculated that Microsoft's market capitalization was ahead of GE based on outstanding employee stock options.

Microsoft executives say the number is not important.

"While providing shareholder value is important, the way we value ourselves is by the value our products offer customers," said Microsoft spokesman Tom Pilla.

Bill Gates' personal wealth has been climbing along with the rise in Microsoft's stock. It now stands at more than $57 billion, at least on paper, according to CEO Wealth Meter, one of the Web sites that tracks the wealth of the world's richest man on a daily basis.