By Chris O’Brien, Los Angeles Times
December 15, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO — With only modest expectations, Robert Leitao of Santa Clarita made a decision in 1994 that would change his life. He bought Apple stock.

This was several years before Steve Jobs returned to resurrect Apple, long before the iPod, the iPhone or the iPads that would make Apple the most valuable company in the world. A $1 investment in Apple at the start of 1994 is now worth about $70.

“Even with the recent sell-off, I’m still doing very well with the stock,” said Leitao, who works as director of operations at a Catholic church in Burbank. “Apple provided for a down payment on our home for our blended family of four kids.”

Leitao is one of the countless people whose lives have been touched by Apple’s stock, which has become a global economic force. It is now one of the most widely held stocks, and the most valuable. Even as Apple Inc.’s market value fell to $480 billion on Friday, it was still larger than the gross domestic product of Norway or Argentina, and more than the combined value of Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp.

Yet that astonishing size and economic influence is also what, many analysts believe, contributes to the extraordinary volatility that can make owning Apple’s stock a hair-raising experience.

It was inevitable, analysts say, that after Apple’s stock rose 74% in the first nine months of this year, a huge wave of selling would occur as fund managers locked in their profits. And yet, in recent years, these huge dips have been followed by even bigger run-ups that led to new record highs, a dynamic that one trader refers to as the “Apple slingshot.”

That pattern has some analysts betting Apple will soar above $1,000 a share in 2013, a scenario almost guaranteed to drive the global obsession with the company’s stock into an even greater frenzy.

“The impact on shareholders and on the economy is incredible,” said Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst for S&P Dow Jones Indices. “We’ve not seen anything like this in the modern trading era. Ever.”

Even after the remarkable decade of Apple’s revival, the company’s stock managed to reach new milestones this year. Early in 2012, Apple became the sixth company ever to surpass $500 billion in market value. In August, it became the only company in history with a market value topping $622 billion.

That performance affects just about anyone who has a 401(k) account or a pension. According to FactSet, a research firm that tracks investment funds, 2,555 institutional investors — mutual funds, hedge funds and pension funds, among others — owned stock in Apple, just behind the 2,590 that held Microsoft stock, as of Sept. 30, the most recent date funds had to disclose their holdings. However, the value of that Apple stock held by institutional investors on that day was $427 billion, compared with $172 billion for Microsoft, according to FactSet.

To read entire story, click here.