What could Apple buy with all its cash?

Thanks to the success of the iPhone, Apple has nearly $203 billion in cash. That could go a long way.

Brett Murphy
Brett Murphy Summer Intern / CNET News
Brett Murphy is an editorial intern for CNET News. He attends the University of California at Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. His work has appeared on KQED, AJ+, New American Media, the San Jose Mercury News, and several regional magazines in Pittsburgh, Penn., where he went to college and put french fries in sandwiches.
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Apple's iPhone sales have boosted its cash holdings CNET

When you were a kid, that $5 weekly allowance could stretch a long way. Now, in the cold reality of adulthood, a dollar doesn't seem to go quite as far.

But for some, money just never seems to be a problem.

Apple on Tuesday reported cash as well as short- and long-term investments totaling $202.8 billion, the first time its cash holdings have topped $200 billion. That's not only the biggest pot of money held by any company in the world -- it's also more than the gross domestic product (GDP) of many countries. Apple shareholders, including billionaire investor Carl Icahn, have been vocal about wanting CEO Tim Cook to put that money to good use -- such as offering higher dividends or buying back more stock.

Despite that, the Cupertino, California-based consumer-electronics titan has been reluctant to spend its money on anything beyond (mostly small) acquisitions. One reason could be that 89 percent of that nearly $203 billion is held overseas. Cash shipped stateside would be subject to a 35 percent tax (give or take), which is why Apple and other business giants, including Hewlett-Packard, Google, Cisco Systems and Microsoft, choose to keep the bulk of their money abroad. That could change if the US government passes another "tax repatriation holiday" like it did in 2004, which let multinationals bring in overseas profits at a lower tax rate.

And then there's the fact that $168 billion is in the form of long-term investments, which can't be converted to cash all that quickly.

Still, should the day come that Apple chooses to really spend its hoard, we've prepared some modest suggestions about what it can do with all that dough:

  • Munchies. Fast food is never a bad bet in America. Apple could acquire Starbucks (which has an $84 billion market valuation) for breakfast and McDonalds ($93 billion) for lunch. For the 3 o'clock sugar craving, it could pick up Dunkin' Donuts ($5.3 billion) and Krispy Kreme ($1.15 billion) -- and still have $20 billion left over for a tip.
  • Marquee names. We sometimes forget Apple isn't the only marquee global brand. Apple might want to polish its own luster by acquiring, say, the Coca-Cola company (currently valued at $179.53 billion), Disney ($202.4 billion), Sony ($33.3 billion) or Nike ($97.1 billion).
  • Motoring. A lot of people speculate that Apple wants to get into the auto industry. It could go it alone, or it could buy its way into the market by tapping Tesla Motors ($35.7 billion) and Ford ($57.7 billion).
  • Money. Perhaps the world's best-known brand, Apple could choose to pick up a country or two. In fact, almost 145 countries have GDPs that are less than Apple's cash holdings. New Zealand ($185.8 billion) might be especially attractive, hobbits being an untapped market.

Of course, if the company were feeling really charitable, it could give away 1 billion iPhones. That would put Apple's smartphones in the hands of one-seventh of the world's population. We suspect, however, that shareholders might not approve of that one.