In his book Factfulness, author Hans Roslin writes that a number, by itself, has no real meaning. To understand it, you have to divide it, make a ratio or a percentage.

I wrote this in my book Avantage Bourse: “For a number to have meaning, you have to put it in context, look at its evolution over time, compare it and divide it by another number to make a ratio, or a rate. For example, the price of a stock becomes meaningful when divided by a company’s earnings per share or some other meaningful data.

If I tell you for example that the value of the fortune of Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and owner of X (formerly Twitter), among others, is estimated at US$210 billion (all amounts are in US dollars), what does such a number mean to you?

Before proceeding, I would clarify that $210 billion equal $210,000,000,000, or $210,000 million.

Let’s try to divide this $210 billion by other factors to put it in perspective. Per capita of the American population, Musk’s fortune is equivalent to approximately $620 ($210 billion / $340 million). Another way to look at it: if you accumulated $100,000 a year, how many years would it take you to achieve Elon Musk’s fortune?

It would take 2,1 million years! ($210 billion / $100,000).

Again: Musk’s fortune is equivalent to almost 10% of the size of Canada’s economy ($2.1 trillion or $2.1 T). Or almost 40% of that of Quebec (around $550 billion).

The Select Club of Trillion-Dollar Companies

Over the past few years, a handful of U.S. companies have achieved a market capitalization of more than $1 trillion. This is the case for the following American companies:

Microsoft: $3.1 T

Apple: $2.9 T

Google: $1.9 T

NVDIA: $1.6 T

Meta Platforms: $1.0 T

What does this $3.1 trillion market cap of Microsoft mean?

First, the number is written the long way as follows: $3,100,000,000,000. An appreciation of 10% of this market cap over the next year would mean that its value increased by $310 billion, or more than double the current market value of the Royal Bank (around $140 billion).

It also represents nearly 1.5 times the value of the Canadian economy, approximately 10% of that of the entire U.S. economy ($26.5 T) or 15% of the size of the economy of the European Union (approximately $19.5 T).

It is often said that the Canadian stock market is limited, that it is restricted by the value and number of its companies on the stock market. This stock market value is almost $3.1 trillion, roughly equivalent to the value of Microsoft.

What is Microsoft’s value per employee? Approximately $14,1 M ($3.1 T / 220,000 employees). And what are its net profits per employee? About $380,000 ($83.5B / 220,000).How do these numbers compare to those of, say, the Royal Bank, Canada’s largest company by market capitalization ($140B)? Its value per employee is nearly $1.5 million ($140 billion / 94,000 employees) and its net profits per employee are some $117,000.

I like playing with numbers this way. By dividing and comparing numbers that are, by themselves, abstract and difficult to pin down, we can better understand them and put them into perspective.



Philippe Le Blanc’s Blog is published in