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Apple has $178 billion in cash. Here's what it could do with it

Some companies have more money than sense. Apple has both. What could the iPhone and iPad maker buy with its $178 billion cash pile?

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Topic: Mobility
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1 of 12 stock image

What Apple can do with $178 billion in cash

Apple has $178 billion in cash reserves, according to the company's recent first-quarter earnings. About $156 billion of that, or 87 percent, is held outside the U.S. If Apple wants to repatriate this cash, it will have to pay huge amounts in taxes and would lose a significant percent overall.

Apple for now is just sitting on it, with no significant plans to repatriate the cash or invest billions elsewhere.

Billionaire investor Carl Icahn, who has spent the past two years lobbying Apple to give some of that cash back to investors, may see that effort pay off. Apple chief executive Tim Cook hinted at a conference Wednesday that the company might increase its dividends.

What else could the company actually do with $178 billion? Here are some of our best ideas.

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2 of 12 CNET/CBS Interactive

Buy every American an iPhone 5c

With its vast cash pile, Apple could give every American adult an iPhone 5c, and still have plenty left over.

America's adult population is roughly 243 million. The current price of an unlocked iPhone 5c (8GB) -- because not everyone is on the same cell network -- is a flat rate of $450. Plug the numbers in, and Apple has still only spent 61 percent of its cash pile.

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3 of 12 ZDNet/CBS Interactive

Share buy-back program, anyone?

Apple could buy back shares on a scale probably never seen before in the US public market. Apple has 5.82 billion shares. Cook previously said that he does not want to "hoard" cash. With $178 billion expanding every quarter, recent analyst estimates from RBC Capital Markets (via Reuters) point to Apple returning more than $200 billion over the next three years.

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4 of 12 via CNET

Buy Starbucks, Tesla, and eBay in one fell swoop

Because you never know when you'll need a coffee maker, a carmaker, and a trading platform at the drop of a hat.

Apple's cash fortune could snap up (based on market cap figures at Thursday's market close) Starbucks for $68.1 billion, Tesla for $26.8 billion, and eBay for $66.7 billion. And it would still have enough left over to buy two chipmakers like Nvidia and ARM.

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5 of 12 Wikimedia Commons

Buy a small European country (and most of the world's islands)

Because most of Apple's cash pile is offshore (and out of the US taxman's hands), it has to invest that sum in global regions. Apple can't repatriate its cash or the company will face hefty tax bills.

One of the best ways for Apple to create its own tax-free safe haven is to buy a small country and change the laws. Based on the global list of gross domestic product (GDP), Apple can repatriate its cash to that country -- at least theoretically -- at a zero-percent tax rate.

Apple could buy Luxembourg for one-third of its cash pile, around $60.1 billion. And it would still have a huge amount left over to buy the world's islands for a few billion. Or, now that relations are thawing, Apple could turn Cuba -- a known tax haven -- for a slightly pricier cost of $68.2 billion, and still give everyone in the country and iPhone to sweeten the deal.

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6 of 12 CNET/CBS Interactive

Buy a sports team (or twenty) for a modest sum

Let's not get bogged down with nonsense about whose football (soccer!) team is the best. It's Manchester City, and anyone who disagrees is wrong. It's worth about $863 million, according to a Forbes valuation.

If you're after something a little more stateside, the New York Mets are worth about $800 million, Forbes says. And Apple would still have enough left to invest in the team to make them not lose every game... (or so it seems).

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7 of 12 JamesEdition.com

Buy a private jet for every Apple manager and above

Believe it or not, private jets don't cost that much anymore. Any mid-range millionaire can snap up one for just a fraction of their overall worth.

According to one luxury broker, Apple could buy a private jet for 17,979 employees -- or roughly every middle manager and above. And the jet they would get would be souped up to the max. The 2011 Cessna Citation Sovereign goes for about $9.9 million.

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8 of 12 CNET/CBS Interactive

Expand its research and development program by 4,000 percent

Apple's research and development (R&D) costs shot up year-over-year by 42 percent, hitting a new record of $1.9 billion. The company is said to be pummeling money into reducing its reliance on its suppliers, notably archrival Samsung.

If Apple spent even half of its cash reserve on research and development, it would be an increase of more than 4,000 percent. Maybe Apple will crack the self-driving car thing once and for all?

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9 of 12 CBS News

Buy three-quarters of Fort Knox's gold

Fort Knox is known as one of (if not the) largest repository of gold in the world. The Kentucky-based bullion depository has 147.3 million ounces of gold. The tens of thousands of gold bars are said to be worth about $130 billion -- a significant figure but still shy of Apple's cash reserve.

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10 of 12 CBS News

Pay tuition for every student to the best school

Princeton University ranks the most prestigious school in the US, with annual fees estimated to be about $59,000 per student. And yet there are some 21 million US college students, according to the U.S. Dept. of Education.

That figure comes to around $1.2 trillion. That's a lot -- even for Apple. If the company spent its entire cash sum on college tuition, it would cover just 6 percent of those students. Maybe it's time to look at the US education system...

Correction: rounding error contributed to a $1.2 billion figure, rather than a $1.2 billion figure. We've corrected this slide.

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11 of 12 Wikimedia Commons

Plug shy of 1 percent of the US's federal debt

The US federal debt is a very contentious topic. It's estimated to be about $18.1 trillion. That's about $56,600 per citizen's share in the US. Apple generates more money than it spends, but the US is reverse.

Apple could help its good friend out -- the U.S. government -- by throwing everything it has into the US federal debt. The total sum of $178 billion amounts to 0.98 percent. That's it. It's barely a drop in the ocean, but it's a good start.

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12 of 12 via CNET

Give every American a check for $560

The current U.S. population stands at about 318 million residents. If Apple were to divide up its cash reserves equally, every American -- including children -- could receive a check for about $560. (Crucially, that figure is not per household.)

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