Using its pile of cash to become the single buyer that controls key high-tech supply chains
In two different forums, discussions about what to do about Apple’s (AAPL) growing cash problem have come around to seeing things the way Steve Jobs and Tim Cook do.
Apple’s problem, as Wall Street sees it, is not that the company has too little cash but too much — $65.8 billion in liquid assets at the end of March that have probably swelled to more than $70 billion by now.
As Asymco‘s Horace Dediu explained Sunday in It’s Good to Be King, his third “Critical Path” podcast on Dan Benjamin’s 5by5 network, that money is perceived by institutional investors as a wasted asset that’s earning almost nothing in the bank and ought to be spent in strategic acquisitions or given back to shareholders in the form of dividends and stock buybacks.
After systematically dismissing each of those options, Dediu zeroes in on what he believes Apple’s real problem to be: building product fast enough to meet demand. What Apple should be doing with that cash, he suggests, is using it to address its manufacturing bottlenecks.
Apple is in the position to be the buyer that drives the whole market. As explained in the above post, Apple is in the position to help manufacturing companies build new plants in order to provide new technologies. These companies will, in return for Apple’s help, provide Apple with exclusive access to the new products for a period of time and then give Apple a discount compared to other buyers.
Essentially, Apple’s cash hoard allows them to invest and subsidize new manufacturing plants while reaping huge benefits from the new products. This allows Apple to build hardware that no one else can replicate at a profit margin that is unmatched.
This seems s much better use of cash than to use it to finance debt or to acquire companies. I hope they are smart enough to do this.