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At the last reckoning, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) had $41.7 billion of cash equivalents by its side. Sure, some of this is locked up in overseas territories despite Google's best efforts to bake a nice Dutch Sandwich, but plenty of the loot rests on American soil. It's not the richest company in the world, but all that juicy cash could still make some big things happen in a hurry.
And Google loves to go shopping. Over the past year, the company has acquired at least 17 companies. The $12 billion buyout of Motorola Mobility is the obvious headliner, but smaller deals range from restaurant rater Zagat to media licensing expert RightsFlow. Google's interests range far and wide.
So with Motorola firmly under Google's grasp, who will the company swallow next? I've heard many ideas, but only some of them hold water.
Everybody's favorite theory
One common suggestion is digital-video wrangler Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX ) . Since Netflix shares are uncommonly cheap, this seems like an opportune time to snap the whole company up. Moreover, that company could use the massive cash backing of a Google-sized partner to realize its international growth plans.
So far, so good. In further support of this idea, you could note that the two corporate cultures seem to go together like peanut butter and grape jam. And thanks to products like the Google TV set-top box platform and the TV service included in that high-speed networking project in Kansas City (in both Missouri and Kansas), we already know that Google would love to own our living rooms. Buying Netflix would go a long way toward making Google credible in that market.
But I don't think CEO Reed Hastings would be open to Google's advances. For one, he serves on the boards of two major Google rivals and is not likely to take Google's view on many competitive issues. For another, Hastings designed Netflix's current strategy, Qwikster hiccups and all, and would most likely prefer to stay the stand-alone course.
And a hostile takeover would probably not work. Netflix is sitting on a poison pill worth 10 million shares of preferred stock, as yet undefined but likely to be worth many times their weight in shareholder votes if needed. Moreover, the board of directors is split up into three classes, making it very difficult for hostile bidders to gain a sudden majority.
Given these obstacles to a harmonious union, Google would be better off building video services from scratch, or basing them on the already-huge YouTube platform. This particular buyout just ain't gonna happen.
Can you hear me now? Good.
Google desperately wants to change the wireless industry, preferably from within. But the Big Four carriers are far too expensive even for this thick wallet. Recall that AT&T (NYSE: T ) tried and failed to buy laggard T-Mobile USA for a heartburn-inducing $39 billion but failed on antitrust concerns.
But there's a cheaper, smaller tier of providers on the table, all within Google's budget -- and the Kansas City experiment already proved that Google doesn't mind starting big projects in a small test market.
That's why I'd suggest that Google kick the tires of regional carrier MetroPCS Communications (NYSE: PCS ) . The carrier's modest market footprint of just 9.3 million customers should keep regulators away. This deal would be bigger than the proposed Netflix buyout, but this is a maturing company with slowing growth. Shareholders have endured a 71% price drop over the past five years, including a 48% plunge since July, 2011, and could probably be persuaded to part with their company for a very reasonable buyout premium.
This would give Google a top-to-bottom presence in the smartphone market, a scope that nobody else in the industry could match. And like I said, Big G would start small enough to avoid antitrust complaints.
A few years down the road, Google could become your one-stop shop for every kind of communications services, depending on how this deal and the fiber network plans work out. Judging by the deep bang-for-your-buck value Google dropped in Kansas City, that would probably be a good thing for American consumers.
All of this is idle speculation until Google really hauls out its oversized checkbook, of course. Could Netflix present a big enough value to make it worth Google's while after all? Dig deep in our premium report on Netflix to decide for yourself.