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What Is Market Capitalization?

Market capitalization, commonly known as market cap, is a crucial metric used in finance to determine the aggregate market value of a company. It represents the total dollar value of a company's outstanding shares based on the current market price per share. Market cap is a fundamental tool for investors and analysts to assess the size and worth of a company, enabling them to categorize and compare companies effectively. In this article, we will delve into the concept of market capitalization, explore its calculation formula, examine the different categories based on market cap, and highlight the significance of understanding market capitalization for investors.

Understanding Market Capitalization

Market capitalization is determined by multiplying a company's outstanding shares by the current market price per share. The outstanding shares include all shares held by shareholders, including institutional investors and restricted shares owned by the company's officers and insiders. By multiplying the number of outstanding shares by the per-share price, we arrive at the total dollar value of the company.

Formula and Calculation

The formula for calculating market capitalization is straightforward:

Market Cap = Price Per Share × Shares Outstanding

For example, let's consider ABC Corp., which trades at $30 per share and has one million outstanding shares. The market capitalization for ABC Corp. would be calculated as follows:

Market Cap = $30 × 1,000,000 shares = $30 million

It is important to note that market cap is a dynamic measure that changes with the market price of shares and the number of outstanding shares. Fluctuations in the share price will directly impact the market capitalization of a company. Changes in the number of outstanding shares typically occur when a company engages in corporate actions such as issuing additional shares, exercising stock options, or repurchasing its own shares.

Types of Market Capitalization

Market capitalization is commonly used to categorize companies into different segments based on their size and market value. The following are the most widely recognized categories:

  1. Mega Cap: Mega-cap companies have a market capitalization of $200 billion or higher. They represent the largest publicly traded companies and are often leaders in their respective industries. Examples include Apple (AAPL) with a market cap of $2.9 trillion and (AMZN) with a market cap of $1.6 trillion.

  2. Large Cap: Large-cap companies have a market capitalization between $10 billion and $200 billion. They are typically well-established and considered relatively stable. Examples include International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) with a market cap of $116 billion and General Electric (GE) with a market cap of $99 billion.

  3. Mid Cap: Mid-cap companies have a market capitalization ranging from $2 billion to $10 billion. They are generally more volatile than large-cap companies and may be on the path to becoming industry leaders. First Solar (FSLR), with a market cap of around $8 billion, is an example of a mid-cap leader in the solar power field.

  4. Small Cap: Small-cap companies have a market capitalization between $300 million and $2 billion. This category includes both young companies with growth potential and established businesses that may have recently experienced a decline in value. Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. (BBBY) has a market cap of $2 billion and falls on the high end of small-cap stocks.

  5. Micro Cap: Micro-cap companies have a market capitalization between $50 million and $300 million. These companies often have limited trading activity and are considered higher risk. They may include startups working on innovative technologies or small pharmaceutical companies developing potential breakthrough treatments.

  6. Nano Cap: Nano-cap companies have a market capitalization below $50 million and are considered the riskiest category. These stocks may trade on less regulated platforms like pink sheets or Over-the-Counter Bulletin Board (OTCBB). The potential for gains varies widely within this segment.

Importance of Market Capitalization

Market capitalization is a critical metric for investors as it provides a more accurate representation of a company's value, health, and stability compared to the stock price alone. By considering market cap, investors can better assess the overall worth of a company and make informed investment decisions.

For instance, comparing Microsoft and Berkshire Hathaway solely based on their stock prices would lead to a misleading conclusion. Microsoft, with a stock price of around $300 per share, has a market cap of $2.3 trillion, while Berkshire Hathaway, with a much higher stock price of over $50,000 per share, has a lower market cap of $761 billion. The market capitalization reveals the true relative values of the two companies.

Understanding market capitalization is crucial for investors to gauge the risk and potential of different companies. While large-cap companies may have more resources and resilience to absorb failures, mid-cap and small-cap companies offer higher growth potential. It is important to recognize that market capitalization is not a static measure, and companies can transition between categories as their valuations change.


Market capitalization is a measure of a company’s size, in terms of the value of its total outstanding shares. Most readers have probably heard of large-cap, mid-cap, and small-cap stocks.

These classifications are based on the market capitalization of a company, which is defined as the number of a company's outstanding shares multiplied by the price of one share.

For example, if company ABC issued 1,000 shares and it is trading at $10/share, then the market capitalization of company ABC is 1,000 x 10 = $10,000. The largest company by market capitalization as of the time of this writing is Apple Inc. Its market capitalization exceeds $750 billion.

Very often, people confuse the market capitalization of a company with the price of one share of the company. For example, if company ABC issues 10 shares at $100/share (with a market cap of 10 x $100 = $1,000), but another company DEF issued 5,000 shares at $1/share, its market cap is 5,000 x $1 = $5,000, and it is five time bigger than the first company, even though its stock is trading at a dollar.

This can come into play when weighting indexes. Some give weights based on price (Dow Jones Industrial Average), some on market cap (S&P 500), and some use other criteria. As you can see from the above example, choosing one of these weighting methods over the other can create completely different results.

What is Weighted Average Market Capitalization?
What is a Price-Weighted Index?

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