The stock price of Priceline.com (PCLN), that inveterate dot.com survivor, is approaching the $1,000 mark. That’s the highest price in the S&P 500 universe. It adds up to a remarkable turnaround at the online travel service known for its wacky advertising featuring William Shatner. The strong market performance raises an intriguing question: Can a stock become too expensive for its own good?
One looks at a $928 share price and would think, “Wow, that’s got to be an all-time high.”But of course, it isn’t. The stock hit a (split-adjusted) $990 a share in April of 1999 before falling to a low of $6 or so a share in October of 2002. Again, this is after a 1-for-6 reverse split in June 2003, so the shares then were more like $1, and it was trying to avoid a delisting. Of course in 1999 that would have made the shares worth more like $160, but just the same, that’s a smile out of a horror movie or something.The equity market is of course full examples of stocks in nosebleed territory on a per share basis. Berkshire Hathaway A-class shares (BRK.A) closed at about $175,000 per share earlier this week. (It’s not a S&P 500 component stock.) You might argue that’s an extreme case, given that Warren Buffett has never allowed the stock to split, in the effort to attract only long term shareholders and avoid speculators. (Berkshire’s B-class shares BRK.B did in fact split on a 50-to-1 basis back in early 2010 to enable an acquisition – the Baby Bs now trade at $116 compared to about $3,500 a pop before the move.) The Washington Post Company (WPO), which made headlines of its own by selling its flagship newspaper to Jeff Bezos, fetches about $588 per share. Other companies such as Autozone (AZO), Mastercard (MA), and Apple (AAPL) trade in the hefty $400 to $650 per share range. Google (GOOG) commands about $890 a share. Here’s a full full list of the S&P 500 constituents by price and other metrics.