Buffett's Not the Only One Who Loves Small Acquisitions

In March, I noted that while Warren Buffett was disappointed he couldn't seal the deal on any large acquisitions in 2012, he was quick to point out that Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-B  ) (NYSE: BRK-A  ) had "a record year for 'bolt-on' purchases."

In all, Berkshire spent about $2.3 billion last year for 26 companies that were melded into its existing businesses.

While that amounted to a seemingly paltry $88.4 million per acquisition, the $2.3 billion total definitely wasn't chump change. What's more, Buffett also said he and Charlie Munger "love these acquisitions" because they are "low-risk, burden headquarters not at all, and expand the scope of [Berkshire's] proven managers."

Now, growth-by-acquisition certainly isn't a foreign concept, but it's intriguing to know that a legendary investor like Buffett sees the value in buying multiple tiny companies to build up Berkshire's already-massive $280 billion market cap.

Buffett's not alone
If you're wondering who else might have a knack for making small acquisitions to build an empire, look no further than Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) CEO Tim Cook.

But wait: Wasn't Apple taking flak a few months ago for not putting that massive cash hoard to good use? After all, that's also why the company raised its dividend by 15% while simultaneously boosting its share repurchase program by a record $50 billion in April, right?

That's right, but remember that still represents just a fraction of Apple's ever-increasing cash pile, which grew 5.8% in the first three months of 2012 to a staggering $145 billion.

That's why, when Cook was asked why Apple "doesn't buy things with its money," he responded:

We do acquire. The previous year, we were probably on a pace of acquiring a company every 60-75 days. Maybe six a year. Apple already acquired nine companies this fiscal year.

Considering Apple's current fiscal year started in October, that means the folks at Cupertino have picked up a new business every 27 days on average since then. 

What's more, Cook suggested that Apple was likely to pick up the pace even further going forward -- but don't expect the notoriously secretive company to keep you in the loop when that happens. Cook went on to note that Apple prefers not to announce acquisitions unless it has to, and all of them have been relatively small so far.

Take indoor-GPS company WifiSLAM, for instance, which Apple quietly purchased for around $20 million in March. Given WifiSLAM's focus on indoor mapping, we can safely assume Apple has something brewing with its maps technology to rival Google's respective competing product. However, Apple's near-radio silence regarding any significant new products until Cook's comments just last week had seemed absolutely deafening.

Foolish final thoughts
Of course, Apple fans and investors alike are looking forward to the company's Worldwide Developers Conference, which kicks off on June 10. Perhaps then the world just might get its first peek at some of the game-changers Tim Cook has promised.

Then maybe, just maybe, the folks at Apple will be able to finally show us what else they've been doing with all their money.

More expert advice from The Motley Fool
There's no doubt that Apple is at the center of technology's largest revolution ever and that longtime shareholders have been handsomely rewarded, with more than 1,000% gains. However, there is a debate raging as to whether Apple remains a buy. The Motley Fool's senior technology analyst and managing bureau chief, Eric Bleeker, is prepared to fill you in on reasons to buy and reasons to sell Apple and what opportunities are left for the company (and your portfolio) going forward. To get instant access to his latest thinking on Apple, simply click here now.


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