Technology?s Cash Piles: Top U.S. Leaders Stash Nears $400B

  @DavidZie on August 20 2012 4:03 PM
Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt speaks at The Sloan School of Management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge
Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt speaks at The Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts November 15, 2011. REUTERS

Don't say technology companies aren't enormously profitable. An IBTimes review of the cash and investment holdings of 11 of the top technology leaders shows they are sitting atop nearly $375 billion in cash and investments - or about 24 percent more since the last survey nine months ago.

True, there's a new public company around that has garnered enormous public attention, Facebook (Nasdaq: FB), the No. 1 social networking site, which reported holdings cash and investments exceeding $10.18 billion in its second-quarter report. Considering the Menlo Park, Calif., company raised $16 billion in its May 17 initial public offering, it spent enormously on taxes, acquisitions and marketing in the quarter.

To be sure, there will be new data this week, when Dell (Nasdaq: DELL), the No. 3 PC maker and Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), the No. 1 computer company, report quarterly earnings.

By contrast, JPMorganChase (NYSE: JPM), the No. 1 bank, reported total assets of $2.29 trillion in what CEO labeled its "fortess balance sheet." But no customers expects Chase to offer wireless or Internet service.

Still, some shrewd financial investors, notably Warren E. Buffett of Omaha's Berkshire Hathway (NYSE: BRK/A) have gotten into technology since last year's third quarter, Berkshire is now the largest shareholder of International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM), the No. 2 computer company, with a 5.56 percent stake.

IBM's done well, too: the shares have gained nearly 30 percent in a year, the dividend has been boosted. And the Armonk, N.Y. company reported cash and investments exceeding $11.7 billion as of June 30.

Not surprisingly, the tech company with the most cash and investments is Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL), the world's most valuable technology company, which reported a total exceeding $117.2 billion on June 30. After a six-year hiatus, some will start to be paid out in a $2.65 quarterly dividend. But the shareholders of the Cupertino, Calif., company will end up with only $2.5 billion from that.

In second place, as before, is Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), the world's biggest software company, of Redmond, Wash., with $63.04 billion. It pays a 20 cent quarterly dividend, which accounts for about $1.7 billion but leaves management with plenty to develop Windows 8, Microsoft Surface tablets and new xBox products.

Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), the No. 1 provider of Internet gear, is in third place, with $48.7 billion, the San Jose, Calif., company reported last week in its fourth-quarter results.

Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), the No. 1 search engine, dipped to fourth place, with $43.1 billion, even after paying $12.5 billion to close the acquisition of Motorola Mobility last quarter, illustrating how powerful being No. 1 in search can be in generating advertising revenue. Google is in Mountain View, Calif.

Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL), the No. 1 database developer, fell to in fifth place, with $29.7 billion reported from its fourth quarter ended in May. The Redwood Shores, Calif., software company has long been a huge cash flow machine.

Mobile chip developer Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) of San Diego reported holdings $26.5 billion in cash.

Others in the group included Intel (Nasdaq: INTC), the No. 1 chipmaker, with $9.59 billion; HP with $8.7 billion; Dell with $17.2 billion; Texas Instruments Inc., the No. 2 chipmaker, with $2.5 billion and Yahoo (Nasdaq: YHOO), the No. 3 search engine, with $2.4 billion and the expectation of as much as $5 billion from sales of assets in China acquired by prior management.

By contrast, Europe's biggest software group, Germany's SAP, reported cash and equivalents of only $4.44 billion, with which to battle Oracle and IBM.

The companies and accountants say most of the technology cash is held outside the U.S., which explains why the companies make so many offshore acquisitions as well as site so many plants or development offices abroad.  Repatriation would incur heavy tax consequences, which the U.S. Congress is in no hurry to ease now, unlike once in the past.

Here are some more suggestions for the top tech companies:

Keep buying other companies.  With so much cash around, there's little reason why highly acquisitive buyers like IBM and Oracle can't keep snapping up public companies with proved track records as well as start-ups and venture-backed players with promising technology.

Invest in new products. Some of the players that are major manufacturers, like Intel, IBM and Texas Instruments, deploy their cash in new chip plants, computer plants and software development. Apple, by contrast, makes nothing, sending billions to its primarily Asian contractors as well as to suppliers like Intel and arch-rival Samsung Electronics (Seoul: 005930).

Without constant investment in new products, rivals of Apple may miss technology waves as BlackBerry developer Research in Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM) has.

Repatriate the cash. Especially during the U.S. presidential campaign, the Silicon Valley crowd could lobby both parties to repatriate some of their cash without incurring the 35 percent penalty. True, Intel is continuing to invest in huge semiconductor plants in New Mexico, Arizona and Oregon and IBM, with partners including GlobalFoundries of Abu Dhabi is building two in upstate New York.

As unemployment remains stubbornly high, the companies could add tens of thousands of jobs to the U.S. payroll. The technology sector employs only about 6 million in the country now, reports the TechAmerica Foundation, the industry umbrella group. That could increase a lot faster.

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