11 things Apple could do with its $159B cash fortune

Summary:Some companies have more money than sense. But Apple has both. What could the firm buy with its $159 billion cash pile? And what makes more sense?

Image: Flickr; CNET/CBS Interactive

Apple has topped a list of companies and countries as the largest holder of cash reserves, with just shy of $159 billion.

According to a report by Moody's Investors Services, U.S. companies have reserved a combined total of $1.64 trillion in cash by the end of 2013. That's about 10 percent of the U.S. national debt (more on that later). Just a decade ago, Apple had just over $5 billion in the bank. 

But the Cupertino, Calif.-based technology giant also has a problem. More than half of its annual profits are attributable to the iPhone. If the iPhone stinks and sinks, Apple will have to reinvest in other technologies, services, products, or acquisitions in order to stay ahead of the game.

What could Apple do with $159 billion in cash — if it wanted to?

1. Buy back even more shares

Apple spent more than $10 billion more than any other U.S. company in 2012 on share buyback schemes. With that, the company was able to remove 5 percent of total outstanding shares and bring them back in house. Even with that share buyback program, its cash increased by $14.1 billion — or almost 10 percent.

2. Give every American a check for $442

CORRECTED: With a population of 313.9 million as of 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and the World Bank, Apple could give every American — old and young — a check for $506. And seeing as Apple's $159 billion doesn't divide exactly to the dollar, the company would still have $166  million to play with at the end of it.

3. Build a car (or just buy Tesla for $25 billion)

According to The New York Times' Nick Bilton on Twitter, Apple's marketing chief Phil Schiller said there were internal discussions about building a camera, or even a car. The research and development efforts aside, it could funnel billions of its own resources into car development. From wages to administrative costs, legal costs and dealer profits, it would cost a huge amount — and likely a company secret.

Or, if it wanted to just acquire a company, it could snap up Tesla for its current market cap price (as of the time of writing), which is hovering just above the $26 billion mark.

Topics: Apple, iOS, iPad, iPhone


Zack Whittaker is a writer-editor for ZDNet, and sister sites CNET and CBS News. He is based in the New York newsroom. His PGP key is: EB6CEEA5.

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