Having an extra $100 billion lying around isn't a bad problem to have. And I don't have an issue with Apple's decision today to use some of that cash stash to pay dividends to investors and to buy back some of its stock.
But doesn't that decision also indicate a lack of attractive companies for Apple to buy? I mean, $100 billion is a lot of money and you would think there would be something out there worth owning in that price range. Apparently, Apple doesn't think so. Or at least it doesn't think there are any companies out there worth the price. And what does that say about the state of the technology industry?
In the days leading up to today's announcement, I heard all sorts of speculation on what Apple might do with the money. Some of the suggestions were serious, like buying Sprint, or even Twitter. DropBox has been mentioned, too. $100 billion would even enable Apple to cover Facebook's IPO price, or almost half of Google's current market cap.
One could also argue that Apple should actually own at least parts of its vaunted supply chain. (Foxconn, I'm guessing, isn't really for sale.) And with $100 billion, you could actually build infrastructure where-ever you wanted it. In the U.S., for example.
And just today, I'm reading suggestions that Apple should buy Adobe or Corel.
Apart from some small-ish deals, like Isreali flash-memory maker Anobit late last year, Apple has recently shied away from spending serious money on companies.
Mostly, I think, because it doesn't have to. As the world's largest publicly held company (by market cap), Apple has the market clout to get outside vendors to do pretty much anything it wants, at terms very advantageous to Apple. No matter how much money you have, there's no reason to take a risk when you don't have to. And none of the businesses mentioned above, none of them, enjoys margins that compare to Apple's gaudy figures.
On the other hand, Apple's situation reminds me of when I was a kid and wished I had all the money in the world... until someone pointed out that if I had all the money, I couldn't use it to buy anything.