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15 things Apple could buy with its $137B cash reserve

Apple has $137.1 billion in cash, but more than two-thirds of it remains off-shore and outside of the U.S. taxman's reach. What could Apple spend all that cash on? We've got some suggestions.
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1 of 16 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

Apple: $137.1bn in the bank

Apple has $137.1 billion in cash reserves, according to the company's recent first-quarter earnings, with $94 billion is stored offshore. If Apple wants to repatriate this cash, it will have to pay huge amounts in taxes and would lose a significant percent overall. 

For now, Apple's just sitting on it. Doing nothing. Nada.

An investor launched sued Apple after it announced plans to get rid of "black check preferred stock" instead of cold, hard cash. This led to Apple stating that is in "active discussions about returning additional cash to shareholders." 

But what else could the company actually do with $137.1 billion? Here are some of our suggestions.

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2 of 16 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

Buy (almost) every American an iPhone 4

With $137.1 billion, Apple could dish out an iPhone 4 to almost every U.S. resident. The U.S. population currently stands at about 314 million, and at the current price of an unlocked iPhone 4 (8GB)—because not everyone is on the same cell network, of course—is a flat rate of $450.

And, to be fair, you could probably skip the 10 million Americans who will miss out on getting a free iPhone. Why? They're probably still in diapers and likely don't even know what an iPhone is. 

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3 of 16 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

Give every American a check for $436

Now we know that the current U.S. population stands at 314 million residents, if Apple were to divide up its cash reserves equally between everyone living in the country, each American could receive a check for about $436.

This time around, sure, even the kids can have a check if they want one. They can put it towards the ever-burgeoning price of college tuition. 

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4 of 16 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

Buy Starbucks, Facebook and Yahoo in one fell swoop

Because you never know when you'll need a coffee maker, a former Web portal giant, and a current Web giant at the drop of a hat—especially for Apple.

According to Friday's market close, Starbucks ($SBUX) was worth $42.24 billion, Facebook ($FB) was worth $68 billion, and Yahoo ($YHOO) was worth $24.25 billion, all according to market cap.

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5 of 16 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

Give every Apple shareholder a one-time dividend

If Apple were to give a one-time dividend to its shareholders, they would receive around $146 in cash per share. There are currently just over 939 million shares in Apple.

This might not actually seem like a lot, but remember that this is per share. Some people own a million shares. For instance, Apple chief executive Tim Cook was awarded exactly that, which if he were on the receiving end of a dividend (that he would have to approve, funnily enough) he would receive $146 million in total.

Not bad, is it?

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6 of 16 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

Help out the U.S. military's defense budget

The U.S. government has allocated between $1.03 and $1.41 trillion in defense spending during 2012. That's quite a bit more than what Apple has in the bank.

The U.S. defense budget shows that $54.6 billion will go on veterans' pensions for 2012. Assuming that it stays the same for subsequent years -- it won't, but let's say it does -- Apple could pay for these pensions for a good two-and-a-half years before it runs out of cash at today's rate.

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7 of 16 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

Buy Morocco, Cuba, or a small European country

The problem Apple has is that most of its cash offshore—68 percent, to be specific—and out of the U.S. taxman's hands. It can't repatriate its cash or the company will face massive tax bills.

One of the best solutions for Apple is to buy a small country—based on gross domestic product (GDP)—so it can bring in its cash from all corners of the world at a zero-percent tax rate.

Apple could buy country with a GDP of less than $137.1 billion, at least in theory (not including costs to build an iArmy to invade the place). It could make a bid for Morocco, Cuba, or even Luxembourg—a known tax haven—or a small European country like Latvia, and still have some cash left over to give everyone in the country an iPhone. 

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8 of 16 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

Buy a private island

Private islands don't actually cost that much anymore. Any medium-level multi-millionaire could probably snap up one for just a fraction of their overall worth. Actually making the place habitable, however, is something else, let alone turning the island from "Lost" into a popular tourist destination for morally bankrupt folk who seek a place in the purgatoric sun.

According to one private island broker, the average going price for a private island in the Caribbean appears to be in the region of $3.5 million to about $47 million, give or take ten million or so.

Or, if you look at the country's gross domestic product (GDP), Apple could buy the Cook Islands (get it? Tim Cook… oh, forget it) for a meager $183.2 million.

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9 of 16 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

Give every U.S. student an iPad (or two... or five)

There are roughly 49.8 million students in K-12 education in the U.S., with an additional 21.6 million students at college, according to the U.S. Dept. of Education.

Apple could, with its $137.1 billion cash pile, give every single K-12 and college student, an iPad—literally any iPad, including the top-of-the-range iPad (128GB, Wi-Fi + Cellular) with Retina display at $929.

But it doesn't just stop there. Apple could in fact give every single K-12 and college student two of the most expensive iPads on offer. If it were the cheapest Apple tablet—the iPad mini (16GB, Wi-Fi only) at $329, those 71.4 million students could be given five iPad mini tablets in total, and Apple would still have a few billion dollars left in the bank.

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10 of 16 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

Give every American a Starbucks latte a day for three months

A Starbucks venti latte costs around $3.50, but varies from place to place. Multiply that figure by the population and it only reaches $1.099 billion. Apple has much more than that.

With $137.1 billion in cash, Apple could give every single American—all 314 million, babies and all; though caffeine is not recommended for the little people—the largest sized Starbucks latte for free. Not just once, but every single day for just shy of three months.

Or, Apple could give everyone in the world a Starbucks latte in the morning for five and a half days before the iPhone and iPad maker ran out of cash.

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11 of 16 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

Buy 80 Endeavour space shuttles

NASA spent around $1.7 billion on Endeavour, the space shuttle orbiter built to replace Challenger. With $137.1 billion, Apple could just stretch it enough to buy 80 space shuttles.

But, of course, this doesn't include the costs of fuel, astronaut labor costs, and launching the thing into orbit. Realistically, Apple could probably buy around 50 at today's prices and still have plenty left over to run a half-decent space program of its own.

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12 of 16 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

Plug less than 1 percent of the U.S.'s federal debt

The U.S. federal debt is a very contentious topic. Currently at $16.07 trillion, it's thought to be one of—if not the largest amount of money in the world. And, even with that, nobody has it. That amount of money doesn't actually exist, only in the vague subconscious minds of bankers.

Apple could help its good friend out—the U.S. government—by plugging everything it has into the U.S. federal debt. $137.1 billion into $16.07 trillion amounts to 0.8 percent. That's it. It's barely a drop in the ocean, but it's a start. 

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13 of 16 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

Take out its cash in dollar bills and stack it into space

Apple could reach space without a shuttle or a rocket—it just needs a very, very large ATM.

A one dollar bill has the dimensions of about 2.61 inches wide and 6.14 inches long, but only 0.0043 inches thick. Stack up $137.1 billion in dollar bills and that's 589.53 million inches, or 14,974 kilometers. (For imperial fans, that's 9,304.4 miles.)

The distance between Earth and the Moon varies from 221,000 miles to 252,000 miles—so the dollar bill pile won't quite reach the Moon, but it will pass the International Space Station's orbiting height of about 230 miles (370km) about forty-times over. 

It's a moot point anyway; there aren't (and never has been, nor ever will be) 137.1 billion single dollar bills in circulation.

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14 of 16 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

Pay tuition for one-quarter of all U.S. students

There are 21.6 million U.S. college students, according to the U.S. Dept. of Education, and the average student loan debt of borrowers in the 'class of 2011' is $26,500, says The New York Times.

Slam the two figures together and Apple could, even with its huge pile of cash, still fall short of paying off every U.S. college student's debts. However, the technology giant could pay off around $6,347, or roughly 24 percent, of each student's debt.

Or, if the company could pick and choose, such as all those who received a high grade (GPA), Apple could pay off the college debt of about one-quarter of the total U.S. college population.

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15 of 16 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

Buy and build an entire city

The median U.S. house price is about $195,050, based on figures from the Northeast, the Midwest, the South and the West coast. Of course, some areas of the country are far higher and far lower than other places, but this—after all—is just a bit of fun. 

Take the median U.S. house price and build as many houses with Apple's cash pile of $137.1 billion, and you can buy 7,028 702,896 houses. Because building a house costs far less than, the number of houses will likely be significantly higher, by at least 20 percent by rough calculations. That could bump the figure up to 8,433 843,475 homes.

After many hours researching this, there's no one definition of how large a town or city should be, but around 10,000 people seems to be the rough benchmark. Compared to New York City or San Francisco, the numbers fall far below their many millions, but it's still wouldn't be a bad effort by Apple if it decided to go down this route.

Correction: One reader points out that indeed it's 702,896 houses, rather than a 'meager' 7,028. Indeed, Apple could built an entire 'city', rather than just a 'town.'

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16 of 16 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

Build an Apple-branded space station

And back into space again. NASA budgeted $58.7 billion for the International Space Station from 1985 to 2015, which due to inflation and other factors, increased to $72.4 billion in 2010 dollars—a 23 percent increase over around 25 years.

All in all, however, the International Space Station cost around $150 billion, but that includes the 36 shuttle flights at $1.4 billion each, adding $50.4 billion to the final figure.

Apple doesn't have quite that much, but if Apple were to create its own version of the International Space Station, it probably wouldn't need as many flights to and from the station. It's fair to say that to build it, launch it up in separate parts, and get iAstronauts in there as well, the company could probably just stretch it.

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