Now that Apple, the world's most valuable technology company, has reported blowout first-quarter results for its best-ever period, it's also disclosed holding $97.6 billion in cash and investments.
Besides using its own shares, which surged when markets opened Wednesday to value the company at a record $418.6 billion, ahead of ExxonMobil, to buy things, it could also use cash for other purposes.
CEO Tim Cook, 51, and CFO Peter Oppenheimer, 48, took questions from analysts Tuesday about the cash the Cupertino, Calif.-based company has but dodged them.
We recognize that cash is growing for all he right reasons, Oppenheimer said, noting the Apple board, whose members include former Vice President Al Gore, is considering options.
Here are five suggestions:
Cut prices to make Apple products more affordable. This may sound crazy for a company that sold more than 15 million iPad2s in three months priced from $499, but considering their popularity as well as the new threat from Intel's Ultrabook chips that are about to appear in very light laptops from Apple competitors, it might be a way to retain market share and gaining goodwill.
Apple is already giving away older-model iPhone3 units, besides selling higher-priced iPhone 4s and iPhone 4S models. Competition is brewing in 2012.
Pay shareholders a special dividend. This is what Microsoft did in 2004, when it had so much cash, it didn't know what else to do with it. True, Apple shareholders are probably happy with their stock appreciation - the shares are up 32 percent over the past year - but a hefty dividend couldn't hurt.
Tap cash to build a new U.S. factory to employ U.S. workers. Over time, Apple shuttered most of its U.S. assembly, handing off a lot of work to contract manufacturers in California and the U.S. southwest before most was shifted to Taiwan and China.
Had Taiwan's markets not been closed for Lunar New Year, surely Hon Hai Precision Industry shares would have surged Wednesday. Better known as Foxconn, Hon Hai assembles and manufacturers a large amount of Apple products. The company has been ridiculed even by Jon Stewart after reports of suicides and unrest in its Chinese factories.
A U.S. jobs initiative would answer a question President Obama himself asked late Apple Chairman Steve Jobs about how many workers assemble Apple products. The answer is very few, although Apple employs 40,000 people in the U.S.
Surely Apple could work with the California State University system or the University of California system to establish the Jobs Center for Manufacturing.
Acquire one of the online universities or technical schools. Not only would this put Apple's money where its mouth has been the past 35 years, owning a college could fuel demand for the new iBooks2 initiative intended to use iPads as textbooks, with publishing rights from leaders such as McGraw Hill and Pearson.
The market capitalization of the Apollo Group, based in Phoenix, is only $7 billion. Apollo controls the University of Phoenix and other well-regarded online educational ventures. Chicago-based DeVry, which sells educational services to the blue-collar community, has a market capitalization of only $2.7 billion.
Acquire a technology powerhouse like Cisco Systems. Cisco, in San Jose, Calif., is the biggest provider of Internet equipment and, by virtue of its 2006 acquisition of Scientific Atlanta, is also one of the largest vendors of equipment for TV transmission, as well as set-top boxes for the home.
As soon as March 31, Google, now a bitter Apple rival, is expected to complete its $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola Mobility, which also sells set-top boxes as well as smartphones.
So having Cisco in-house might benefit Apple by providing a good way to roll out Apple TV, or iTV, as expected later this year, battle Google and also provision Apple to sell services to the cloud, or Internet-based computer services.
Stranger acquisitions have taken place. Apple's directors, who besides Gore also include Bill Campbell of Intuit, Robert Iger of Walt Disney and Chairman Arthur Levinson of Genentech, might have the insights to come up with this on their own.
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...