David Zax

A View from David Zax

Apple Can't Give Out Its Money Fast Enough

While it doles out $45 billion, it’ll make billions more.

  • March 21, 2012

It’s a dazzling amount of wealth: $98 billion. That’s the size of Apple’s cash reserve, a mountain that it’s been sitting on for quite some time. On Monday, Apple CEO Tim Cook finally announced what it’d be doing with that money, giving in to demands of investors. Cook announced that the company would start a quarterly dividend and share buyback. Over three years, it will pay out some $45 billion.

That might sound like a lot of money, but in fact Apple is making so much these days that the plan will almost literally put into effect the old saying about “making money faster than you can give it away.” Even with the payout, point out Business Insider and the New York Times, the company’s cash balance should continue to grow. “A back-of-the-envelope assumption would be cash flow of $40 billion this year, $50 billion next year, and $60 billion the following year, for a total of about $150 billion over three years,” says Business Insider. Even with the dividend and buyback, Apple’s cash reserve might hit the $200 billion mark in three years’ time.

How did people react to the announcement? Some investors and analysts were actually somewhat disappointed. One of them told the Times that it was a “pretty vanilla return of cash program,” hardly anything as innovative on the financial front as Apple regularly achieves on the technological front. Reuters adds that the move “disappointed some fund managers, given a 1.8 percent dividend yield that lags the Standard & Poor’s 500 average.”

For regular folks, the numbers involved sent their imaginations reeling. The Washington Post asked its readers what they’d do with a cool 100 billion, and put together a slideshow of the responses. Among the ideas: buy Facebook shares; buy Disney; buy a space station; buy Mars; attach rockets to forthcoming spaceship office, turning it into an actual spaceship (presumably to land on Apple’s new planet, Mars); develop a perfume that smells like new Apple products, thus awakening in consumers the “deep, yuppie urge to buy more Apple products.”

Or how about this crazy idea? Wrote one analyst: if Apple’s so rich, maybe it could price its products a little more affordably.

For more details on the Apple announcement, here’s the company’s own press release; here, via Seeking Alpha, is a transcript of the entire call; and here, via ZDNet, is a good summary of that call.

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