Now we know what Apple is going to do with some of their $100B cash pile: Pay a dividend and buy back stock.
Facebook’s IPO is rumored to go out at about the same amount as Apple’s cash pile: $100 billion dollars. No, I am not suggesting Apple buy Facebook. (Zuckerberg has his own path to travel, and it does not go through Cupertino).
But today’s dividend announcement did start me thinking about what else Apple could do with that money. The short answer is to buy Twitter for about $10 billion dollars. And if they could make the purchase with a combination of appreciated equity and cash, even better.
Let me state upfront that I believe M&A to be wildly overrated (IPOs as well); most companies do these very poorly and end up unwinding big acquisitions at great cost eventually. (See AOL Time Warner as the poster child). They pay huge iBank fees to conglomerize, and even bigger fees to de-conglomerize. Outside of big resource mergers in oil or minerals, major mergers rarely work out well. So no, I am not a fan of most of these deals.
There are a few exceptions. A handful of firms have made strategic acquisitions an art form. Cisco Systems (CSCO) may be the best tech firm at this; GE may be the best industrial making strategic acquisitions (forget that attempted Honeywell thingie). Oracle makes larger acquisitions that has helped grow their revenues over the years (of BEA, PeopleSoft, Siebel Systems, Hyperion and SunMicro).
And Apple? They primarily do small, almost tactical purchases. Even their biggest buy, the 1997 purchase of NeXT Computer that brought the prodigal son back to Apple, was “only” $400m.
Apple does software and hardware really well; they do the integration between the two outstandingly. But they haven’t really done Social particularly well. In fact, Apple may be the only Tech company without a Twitter account. Go ahead, check out @Apple – 0 Tweets / 0 Following / 6067 Followers. Sure, iTunes software is terrific, but the “Ping” social network simply never caught on. Twitter automagically makes Apple a defacto player in social.
Apple’s biggest competitors over the next decade are not HP or Dell or even Microsoft – they are more likely to be Google and Facebook. Which leads us back to Social Networking and that leads to Twitter.
In the last mobile operating system (iOS) upgrade, Apple tightly integrated “Tweet This” in their mobile products. Apple could do a strategic investment in Twitter — a $1 billion or more — and lock in an inside track with Twitter. But why? For less than 10% of Cash on hand, they can acquire an enormous strategic product. They could continue to let Twitter operate as a stand alone entity. They then build in Twitter more tightly into their products as their social network. And it gives them an advantage versus competitors.
Ping gets replaced with Twitter for Tunes; Various photo services (like Flickr) get new competition from Apple Photos; there are innumerable ways a tighter integration can be had between the two companies.
The question is should it? Can Apple achieve its goals without Twitter? Sure it can. But buying some (or all) of Twitter gets Apple 3 things:
1. They become a competitive player in Social Networking instantly;
2. They fix Ping, and begin to monetize it;
3. Most importantly, Twitter is kept from the hands of Google, Facebook and Microsoft.
Twitter is an IPO candidate in its own. I suspect Google might be the better fit – infrastructure expertise, monetizing search, etc. – but there seems to be some estrangement between Google and Twitter for reasons I am not familiar with.
What do you think? Does this deal make any sense?