It certainly doesn’t seem like Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) needed any more good news. AAPL stock already trades at an all-time high. Another 9% gain in AAPL stock will make the company the first ever to be valued at a trillion dollars. Now, the company is bringing – possibly – over $200 billion in cash back to the U.S.
The company made the announcement in a release on its website on Wednesday. Of some $252 billion held overseas, $38 billion will go to a one-time repatriation tax payment. That still leaves over $200 billion, in the range of $40 per share of AAPL stock – for CEO Tim Cook to play with.
How Apple manages that cash obviously will have a significant impact on AAPL stock going forward. Longer-term, I still see a real risk in the company’s significant reliance on the iPhone.
But AAPL stock has shrugged off that concern, and as far as 2018 goes, the newly accessible cash has the potential to get Apple to the vaunted trillion-dollar level. It will depend on what Apple chooses to do – and how investors judge those choices.
How Much Cash Does Apple Have?
Up front, it’s worth pointing out that Apple may not have immediate access to all of the cash being “brought in” to the U.S. After-tax, Apple will repatriate roughly $214 billion. But as of Sept. 30, the company had $194.7 billion in long-term investments. $125.7 billion of that total, according to the 10-K, was in “corporate securities.”
The sheer size of Apple’s portfolio means that it likely will not be able to sell those bonds en masse without pressuring the price. Maturities of long-term investments “generally range from one to five years,” according to the filing – and in many cases, Apple may have to wait for maturity.
Meanwhile, the company already has committed roughly $37 billion to investments in capital expenditures and with American manufacturing partners. Finisar Corporation (NASDAQ:FNSR) already has been a beneficiary of the company’s largesse. Additional cash will be targeted to employee bonuses and charitable investments.
Still, Apple should have in the range of $175 billion in incremental cash and a lot of options in terms of how to use it.
Investing in AAPL Stock – Or Apple
Apple already is hugely aggressive in returning capital to shareholders; the company’s existing target projects total returns (buybacks and dividends) of $300 billion by March 2019. And it’s likely that at least some of the cash pile will go toward buying back AAPL stock and raising Apple’s dividend.
One analyst already has pointed out that a buyback alone could increase EPS by anywhere from $3 to $11 per share. But the figure likely is to come in on the lower side. At the least, the optics of bringing cash back to the U.S. only to spend it buying back stock could cause a bit of a political issue. And there should be more aggressive ways to utilize that capital.
Apple also can put more of the cash into the actual business. Capital expenditures have been steadily rising, and Apple could continue that growth. Adding internal chip capabilities could help long-term margins. Suppliers no doubt will get some of the cash.
A lot of cash is going to go into AAPL stock and Apple operations. But what’s simply amazing about Apple is that even that cash is likely to be only a portion of the money the company has to spend.
Apple’s most interesting decision relates to its debt. The company closed fiscal 2017 with $104 billion in term debt, and another $12 billion in short-term commercial paper. Apple could repay that debt and still have some cash left over.
The irony, of course, is that the debt was issued because Apple wanted to return capital to shareholders without paying the original 35% repatriation tax. Now that the cash is available, the question is whether Apple will (or should) remove the debt. Under former CEO Steve Jobs, the company was exceedingly conservative from a balance sheet perspective.
And removing the debt would also remove $2 billion-plus in interest expense, providing a likely ~$0.30 benefit to earnings per share.
But the market likely would react poorly to an aggressive debt reduction plan. Apple quite obviously is at no risk of financial trouble. Interest rates are exceedingly low, the weighted average rate is barely 2% a year. An owner of AAPL stock would much, much rather the company buy back stock than debt, given that cost of capital.
Apple also has been notoriously conservative when it comes to buying companies. The company makes a number of small deals every year, along the lines of its $400 million acquisition of Shazam last month. But its two biggest deals each only cost about $3 billion: the 2014 purchase of Beats and this year’s buy (as part of a consortium) of the chip business from Toshiba Corp (USA) (OTCMKTS:TOSYY).
But Cook has targeted growth in services – a double in four years – and a bigger acquisition is needed to hit that bogey. With cash on hand, Apple could make a big move.
Netflix, Inc. (NASDAQ:NFLX) has been a long-rumored buy, as Luke Lango detailed last week. Back in May, Citigroup analysts named seven potential targets. In addition to Netflix, Walt Disney Co (NYSE:DIS) could add media content for Apple’s ecosystem.
Even Tesla Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) has been floated, a way for Apple to extend its hardware dominance into the automotive space.
There are numerous targets – and enough cash to finance pretty much any deal Apple wants to make. The question most likely will come down to: does Apple want to spend its cash buying other companies – or just more of itself? The answer to that question likely will have a big impact on AAPL stock in 2018 and beyond.
As of this writing, Vince Martin has no positions in any securities mentioned.