One of the recurring themes in the tech sector is whether companies are hoarding too much cash. Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) once had a cash hoard of nearly $60 billion, part of which it used to pay out a special one-time dividend of nearly $32 billion to investors. That's a big chunk of change!
However, partially because of fears brought about by the recession, we've seen a number of firms once again cramming their cash drawers beyond capacity. That can be bad for investors, since that cash is usually earning short-term rates. If companies don't have a use for the money, they could give it back to investors, to allocate it as they see fit.
The most notable of these cash-clutchers is Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) , which has about $40 billion in cash sitting on the balance sheet. What does Apple plan to do with all that loot? It's far in excess of any R&D demands, and the company has always followed a strategy of small acquisitions. Indeed, that approach makes sense for Apple -- the idea of a company with such a unique vision and relentless pursuit of quality swallowing up and integrating another company doesn't make a lot of sense.
There are signs that other tech companies are loosening their grip on their accumulated wealth. Both Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO ) and Microsoft used fortunate conditions to issue debt at what they considered favorable rates. Then there's also the possibility of an M&A boom. Following SAP's recent big acquisition of Sybase, it looks like that market will continue heating up.
All in all, tech companies are probably stiffing shareholders a bit by keeping capital they're not using on the balance sheet at really low rates. However, big companies -- Cisco, Oracle, IBM, and probably even Microsoft -- might start using that lucre for M&A in the coming quarters.
To Apple and Jobs, my advice is this: Do what's right for shareholders. Pay a dividend.
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