With over $98 billion in the bank, Apple is certainly not wanting for cash. With each passing quarter, Apple's stockpile of money increases by the billions and is now so large that many investors are clamoring for Apple to do something, anything, with all that cash.
Since assuming the role as CEO, Tim Cook has been quite open with regards to how Apple views its cash balance. During a recent earnings conference call, Cook said that Apple isn't planning to let its cash pile burn a hole in its pocket and that the company is intently discussing various options that would provide the utmost benefit to shareholders, whether it be a dividend, a special dividend, or a stock buy back.
And I think it's clear to everyone, and I'd be the first to admit, we have more cash than we need to run the business on a daily basis. I'm sure everyone would agree with that in here. And so we're actively discussing it. I only ask for a bit of patience, so that we can do this in a very deliberate way and make the best decision for the shareholders
Regarding a stock buyback, investment guru Warren Buffett was on CNBC earlier today and recounted an interesting story detailing how Steve Jobs called him up a few years back (back when shares of Apple were in the $200 range) seeking guidance as to what Apple should do with its war chest.
"It was an interesting conversation because I hadn't talked to him in a long time," Buffett recalled. " He said, 'We've got all this cash. What should we do with it?' So we went over the alternatives. It was kind of interesting."
Buffett explained that a company with an excess of cash has 4 options. It can issue a dividend, buy back some stock, acquire new companies, or do nothing and watch its stockpile grow.
And then I asked him the question, I said .. 'I would use it for buybacks if I thought my stock was undervalued.' And I said, 'How do you feel about that?' The stock was 200-and-something. He said, 'I think my stock is very undervalued.' I said, 'Well, what better to do with your money?'
And so there Jobs had it - advice from one of the most successful investors in the history of the world. But as it turns out, Jobs never heeded Buffett's advice and no stock buyback was ever initiated. Instead, Apple did nothing, though they have made a number of strategic acquisitions over the past few year.
Somewhat comically, and arguably very Jobsian, Buffet later heard that Jobs had told people that he (Buffett) had agreed with Jobs' argument that Apple should, in fact, do nothing with its cash.
The reality distortion field in full effect, folks.
"He didn't want to repurchase stock," Buffett added, "although he absolutely felt his stock was significantly underpriced at two-hundred and whatever it was then."
For all we know, Jobs wanted to hold onto that cash so he could fund his war against Android. Remember that Jobs famously explained in his biography that he was willing to spend "every penny" in Apple's bank account to "destroy Android, because it's a stolen product."
More seriously, it's hard to take Jobs to task given the metoric rise of Apple shares over the past few years. Jobs may not have listend to Buffett, but Buffet never bought shares of Apple, to which he remarked: "I've never bought Apple, but I wish I had." Note that Apple's stock price has appreciated over 520% over the last 5 years.
Incredibly, shares of Apple are currently trading in the $526 range and are still considered by many to be undervalued.