It's the typical complaint: if you need money, the bank won't lend but if you already have plenty of cash, it can't wait to lend you more.
In the past week, Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) and Intel Corp. (NASDAQ:INTC) have raised $9 billion in bond sales, including Amazon's first in 12 years. Neither Amazon, the No. 1 e-retailer, nor Intel, the No. 1 chipmaker, needed the cash.
Considering Wall Street is approaching the end of the year, the only question is which technology brand name will be next to sell bonds, capturing low interest rates and avoiding any uncertainty that Washington may not settle the “fiscal cliff” dispute by Dec. 31.
Among them, the top dozen U.S. technology companies have hundreds of billions in cash and investments on hand, headed by the astounding $117 billion held by Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), of Cupertino, Calif., which so far hasn't approached the market.
The money could come in useful. Amazon, of Seattle, raised $3 billion last week for what it termed “general corporate purposes,” although there has been intense speculation it might seek to acquire the wireless chip unit of Texas Instruments Inc. (NASDAQ:TXN), the No. 2 chipmaker, or even all of BlackBerry developer Research in Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM). Amazon already had $5 billion in cash on hand.
Intel, of Santa Clara, Calif., this week raised $6 billion – or about the cost of building 1-1/2 wafer fabrication plants – also for “general corporate purposes” as well as to fuel share buybacks.
Of the total, $3 billion in five-year senior notes will carry interest of only 1.35 percent, $1.5 billion in 10-year notes will have a 2.7 percent rate, $750 million in 20-year notes were sold with a 4 percent rate and another $750 million in 30-year notes were sold with a 4.25 percent rate.
Intel reported holding cash and investments exceeding $10.5 billion as of Sept. 30.
Intel chose to raise capital in a period of flux. CEO Paul Otellini suddenly announced his retirement last month without designating a successor after the company reported a 14 percent decline in third-quarter net income to $3 billion, or 58 cents a share, from $3.5 billion, or 65 cents, a year earlier.
The company's revenue eased 5 percent to $13.5 billion. Management warned fourth-quarter revenue might only be around $13.6 billion, in what's usually the strongest period, with holiday sales, corporate orders for 2013 as well as the new Windows 8 OS for partner Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ:MSFT).
Even S&P's Intel analyst, Christin Armacost, has only a “neutral” rating on the company, with a “hold” on the shares and a “bearish” outlook on technical signs related to the semiconductor sector since August.
Competitor Moody's, though, said it would rate the latest Intel notes A1.
Last month, all U.S. companies sold a record $135 billion in new debt for all purposes. Analysts say this month could beat that, although most activity will likely come before Dec. 15, before financial markets quiet and participants plan their holidays.
In Wednesday trading, shares of Intel fell 11 cents to $19.85, not much above the recent 52-week low of $19.23, while those of Amazon rose $1.47 to $253.96.
David Zielenziger is a veteran editor and journalist who has written for newspapers including the Baltimore Sun, Asian Wall Street Journal and EETimes, as well as for...