How Apple should spend its $98 billion cash reserve

Any business would kill for this problem: a savings account so flush it's making investors antsy.

By Feb 16, 2012 11:20AM
Corbis/CorbisApple (AAPL) is sitting on top of the corporate world -- and on a $97.6 billion in cash. As CEO, the late Steve Jobs was a stickler for hoarding the company's reserves for rough patches, but it's looking like the tech giant will finally part with some of that money.

New CEO Tim Cook hinted as much Tuesday in his address to the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference. "I'd be the first to admit, we have more cash than we need to run the businesss," said the famously frugal Cook. But Apple will continue to spend its money judiciously, he added. "We are not going to run out and have a toga party."

With a $100 billion toga party off the table, here are four things Apple might do:

1. Buy, buy, buy!
 My advice, says Tom Taulli at InvestorPlace: "Get much more aggressive with acquisitions." Dealmaking is the quickest way to enter new markets, something Apple must do "to keep up the sizzling growth." Purchasing a company like (CRM) would allow Apple to conquer business-oriented cloud computing, to go with its consumer-oriented iCloud. Or, Apple could buy Sony (SNE), says Brier Dudley in The Seattle Times. "A steal for $19 billion," it would be a great fit for a company entering the TV business: "Sony makes nice TVs, but it could use better software."

2. Finally give investors a dividend
. Cook told the Goldman conference that Apple shareholders "don't want us to act like we are rich." But after 17 years, "many shareholders wouldn't mind if Apple were to issue a dividend," says John Paczkowski in All Things D. Steve Jobs was adamant about Apple keeping its money for investing in the business, but "surely a meaningful one-time payment like that would have little impact to the company's earnings or cash flow these days." IBM (IBM), Microsoft (MSFT), and Intel (INTC) do it, "so why should Apple shareholders be denied?" says InvestorPlace's Taulli. "Dividends are a nice bonus for loyal shareholders."

3. Improve working conditions for Chinese laborers. A dividend? "Keep dreaming," says The Seattle Times' Dudley. But maybe Apple would "pay a special dividend -- to Chinese sweatshop workers who make Apple gadgets." A tenth of 1% of the company's $100 billion would go a long way toward creating "better conditions in Shenzhen," or starting a health care fund for those workers. Improving their quality of life is "the right thing to do," Farhad Manjoo writes at Slate. But this goes beyond ethics. Apple's brand is crucial to its success, and the reports about its "dark underbelly" threaten its long term profitability.

4. Give it away. Not known for philanthropy, Jobs "even said he opposed giving away money," but Cook is more charitable, says Dana Kerr in CNET News. Since taking over, he's contributed $100 million of Apple's cash to local hospitals and disease-fighting nonprofit Product RED, and agreed to match up to $10,000 a year in charitable giving by employees. Note: On the same day Apple reported its "stupendous profits," Microsoft founder Bill Gates was challenging world leaders to fight poverty and disease, Dudley says. With $100 billion, "what could Apple do to make the world a better place for everyone?" (Microsoft owns and publishes Top Stocks, and MSN Money site.)

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Feb 16, 2012 1:25PM

"Improve working conditions for its Chinese laborers"  What the!?

Here's a thought; How about they learn to survive on say 9-10 Billion a year in profits rather than 13, take some of the cash they have sitting around and build a couple of manufacturing plants in the US. Train some workers and actually do something for America!

Apple, when you start building your tech toys in the US, I'll start buying them, until then you can kiss my.........

Feb 16, 2012 12:29PM
I can't imagine investing in a company with this high a stock price, with this much extra capital, that doesn't pay ANY dividends. 
Feb 16, 2012 2:23PM
Pay 3% dividends to stockholders. Split stock 9 for 1 so investors can compare resulting $37 per share for Apple to $31 per share for Microsoft. Donate $20 billion each to China and India to improve workers conditions. Buy $10 billion each of Intel, Microsoft and Nokia stock to take advantage of rotation from iToys to nToys. Cut the prices of products by 20-30% before Nokia and Samsung force that to happen in 2012-15.
Feb 16, 2012 1:52PM
Smile Spend on charities. Dale Carnegie sold a lot of stocks and gave them to charities his money problems solved.
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