In my print column in Barron’s over the weekend, I took a look at the great gobs of cash piling up on the balance sheets of large technology companies. Among other things, I asked readers to suggest what Apple (AAPL) might do with its $28 billion cash pile. So far, at least, the company has shunned the obvious alternatives: it isn’t buying back large blocks of stock, it isn’t paying out in the form of dividends, and it isn’t in the habit of making large acquisitions. They just pile it up. But with short-term returns under 1%, you would think that at some point Apple might want to do something with the ever-increasing pile

The column ended this way:

The most fascinating situation involves Apple, which pays no dividend, doesn’t aggressively buy back stock, and rarely makes acquisitions. Every quarter, its money pile climbs higher. Maybe they’d like a nice bank? (Bank of iMerica?) Or how about a car company? Plug-in hybrid, four-wheel drive iPhones? Who wouldn’t want one of those?

Have an idea for Apple’s cash? E-mail me.

Anyway, quite a few people took me up on the offer; I’ve excerpted some of the responses below. There are plenty of ideas: Develop new products! Make acquisitions! Keep the pile stacking higher! Or pay it out!

If you have a better idea , please share your thoughts in the comment section below, or e-mail me at

Readers suggest:

  • “AAPL should announce that starting in Fiscal 2009 all net profits will be paid out to shareholders in the form of an annual cash dividend. In 2009 this should be approximately $5.50/share (free cash flow is actually noticeably higher due to conservative revenue recognition on iPhones). At the current stock price ($90) this would equate to a 6% yield. I believe it is quite reasonable to assume that the stock price will rise sharply in response to this shareholder friendly action. If the stock moved up so that the yield moved down toward 4%, a $125 stock price could be expected. This is a no-brainer method to create shareholder value. All the cash-rich tech giants should be following this strategy. Otherwise, balance sheets will continue to grow, and with short-term interest rates unlikely to rise anytime soon, hoarding mountains of cash is just plain poor financial management.” - Carl Goldsmith, Chief Investment Officer, Delta Asset Management
  • “Use it to create an army of Steve Jobs clones.” - Doug Pike
  • “With its history of fiscal responsibility, why not let Apple use its $28 billion cash to help bail out the U.S. Treasury. Oh, wait, that wouldn’t be fiscally responsible, would it? - Bill Schweitzer
  • Apple should buy Sprint (S). 50 million subs for about 500 a piece.” - Ken Krogulski
  • “Wouldn’t Sandisk (SNDK) be a good acquisition for Apple? Many synergies, including their flash memory for iPods and iPhones, and SSDs for their notebooks. Not to mention their little share of the MP3 market.” - Richard Ferrentino
  • “I think a perfect acquisition for Apple would be Electronic Arts (ERTS).” - Nick
  • “Apple will need a new growth engine after the iPhone growth slows down. They’re in the computer, phone and MP3 business, so why not jump into the video game market next? An acquisition of major video game publishers and developers, such as Take-Two Interactive (TTWO), Electronic Arts and another one or two major names could be had for less than $15-$17 billion in total. Apple would own the best IP in the video game industry and instantaneously be able to build its own new console with the best IP in the industry. And think of the synergies for its developers to create games in the iPhone and future iPhones that compete with Nintendo’s DS and Sony’s PSP.” - James Mansour, George Washington Law, class of 2010
  • “I’m surprised someone like Apple (or even Dell) hasn’t snapped up Isilon (ISLN). They sell a clustered storage hardware/software solution that has been popular in large data set environments (media, oil & gas, scientific). To Apple more specifically, it would enhance (create) a storage offering that plays well in the media/entertainment space - where their systems are popular.” - Tom Tierney
  • [Buy] TiVo (TIVO). Best interface. High-end users willing to pay high margins. Good client list that will enable them to cross sell other Apple products to work with the TIVO interface. Sort of a trojan horse.” - domini66
  • “You nailed it, the iBank. The perfect ‘utility bank’ would put these old banking dinosaurs out of their misery. Your iPhone or other Apple device would act as your debit/credit and or cash machine card. You direct deposit paychecks to iBank or set up EFT from brokerage accounts to your iBank account. Get better rates on balances (like ING). We’d probably love to get nickel-and-dimed by the iBank for service rather than pay $20 or more a month for the privilege of maintaining a non-interest bearing checking account or $2 per transaction to access our own cash. I’ve done almost anything to avoid setting foot in a bank over the last 20 years. iBank should be able to do for banking what iTunes did for music. - John M. Coughlin, Jr.
  • “My wife and I started a small company, and three years in we are making it. One reason: Apple. Now, people ask us how we run an international consultancy, providing executive coaching and workplace performance seminars to of all clients investment banks, using Apple computers…We found a way. My advice to Apple: seek out every small business with tech needs and answer their questions. Up the one-to-one and ProCare Programs, get applications that make running small businesses better, and be there when I refer a colleague to the products.” - Jason W. Womack, The Womack Company
  • “They desperately need to develop quickly a new Netbook. They have the resources to do this based on their great notebook models. The netbooks out there right now are all crappy or lacking in some features. Sony, Asus and Acer are all just so-so, and have lousy keyboards to start with. Some don’t have CD drives. Apple, last but not least, sees all this and can come up with one that has all the ingredients that people need… An apple netbook would sell in the millions for sure.” - Vic Strano
  • “It may be a natural fit for AAPL to look at the home theater matket.” - Glenn F
  • “One thing Apple has is patience; they’ve rarely rushed a product to market. Similarly, they may recognize that as the economy weakens, time is on their side. What they could buy [for] $10 today, may well be down to $7 next November. Patience!” - Charles D. Hoffman
  • “If I were AAPL I would hog the cash in t-bills.” - Robert Howarth