Here's What America's 10 Richest Companies Do With Their Extra Cash

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Photo: Brett Jordan via Flickr

This post originally appeared at 24/7 Wall St. You might have already heard the reports that Apple is sitting on a lot of cash, around the $100 billion mark.

You might have even read the scores of recommendations about what it should do with all this cash.

Click here to see what companies make the list >
But America’s largest company — by market cap — is keeping mum on what it is going to do with it. CEO Tim Cook’s recent comment that the cash “is more than we need to run the company” had investors guessing — hoping — that means dividend.

This certainly was the case in 2004, when Microsoft was holding a large sum of cash. It paid out a one-time dividend that returned $32 billion to share-owners and instituted a regular quarterly dividend payment thereafter.

And the cash keeps rolling in for Apple. Driven by iPad and iPhone sales, revenue growth has been huge. Analysts at Canaccord Genuity project revenue of $157 billion in 2012, up from $108 billion in 2011. They also estimate that the release of the iPhone 4S lifted Apple’s share of the smartphone industry’s operating profits to 80% last quarter.

Quarterly profits will vary, based on new product releases, but an 80% share of the entire industry shows Apple’s ability to charge carriers large premiums compared to its competitors. iPad sales have surpassed Mac sales and are now Apple’s second highest source of revenue. With Apple’s product innovation history and estimated growth, could a $200 billion cash balance be far off?

24/7 Wall St. wanted to see what other companies have large cash holdings, and what, if anything, are they doing with their cash. We focused on the most liquid holdings of cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments, which mature within one year and are therefore listed as current assets. In Apple’s case, this does not include the $67 billion in long-term marketable securities, those with a maturity date over one year. We excluded banks and companies with large financial service arms that require cash for lending purposes. By this measure, Microsoft is the top holder of cash, with $52 billion.

Short-term cash holdings, by nature, are invested conservatively. Management, overseen by the board of directors, must take “due care” not to put corporate cash at risk. Companies will hold onto cash for a variety of reasons, either for operations, buying assets or as a guard against future downturns. But when holding onto them too long, conservative investments risk losing value to inflation.

24/7 Wall St. gathered information from SEC 10-K and 10-Q filings. All data is for the last reported quarter.

The following lists the 10 top holders of cash. If you want an idea of where to hold your liquid funds, we offer a few highlights of where these companies have parked their money.

10. Dell

Cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments: $13,838 million

Money market funds: $8,881 million

Cash: $3,596 million

Commercial paper: $816 million

Dell has amassed cash over the years selling personal computers, but it is no longer a high growth company. Now, enterprise solutions and services account for $30 billion of its annual revenue. With no dividend to account for, investments and stock buybacks are Dell's main uses of its excess cash from operations. Dell repurchased $2.7 billion of its own shares during this past year.

9. Coca-Cola

Cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments: $14,035 million

Cash and cash equivalents: $12,803 million

Short-term investments: $1,088 million

Marketable securities: $144 million

Coca-Cola gets 60% of its revenue from outside the U.S. Soft drinks offer a better operating margin but are on the decline in the U.S. Coke has stakes in its overseas bottlers, Coca-Cola Amatil, Coca−Cola FEMSA and Coca−Cola Hellenic. Coke's outflows of money during 2011 include spending $3.3 billion on advertising, buying $4.3 billion of its own stock, and paying $4.3 billion in dividends.

8. Intel

Cash, cash equivalents & short-term investments: $15,198 million

Government bonds: $6,665 million

Commercial paper: $4,122 million

Corporate Bonds: $1,264 million

Bank deposits: $1,126 million

Most of Intel's money comes from selling chips for PCs, a fairly lucrative business. In 2011, Intel paid $4.1 billion in dividends and spent $8.7 billion on acquisitions, including $6.7 billion for security software firm, McAfee. Research and development expenses are expected to rise in 21012 by 21% to $10 billion, primarily from R&D investments. The major handicap to Intel's accumulation of cash in the future is the fall off in the use of its chips as people migrate from PCs to tablets and smartphones. Its new Atom chips are meant to compete with similar handset products from industry leaders Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM) and Nvidia (NASDAQ: NVDA).

7. Chevron

Cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments: $20,071 million

Cash and cash equivalents: $15,864 million

Time deposits: $3,958 million

Marketable securities: $248 million

Chevron operates in the most capital intensive industry of this group, with $27.4 billion in capital and exploratory expenditures last year. With operating activities producing $41 billion, there's enough cash for a $6.1 billion dividend. And with oil prices rising, multinational energy companies are best equipped to turn these higher prices into cash flow. Record crude prices helped global oil companies post huge profits in 2008. With Brent crude trading these days above $125 a barrel, that is likely to happen again.

6. Amgen

Cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments: $20,641 million

Money market funds: $6,266 million

Corporate debt securities: $5,943 million

U.S. government and agency securities: $5,517 million

Mortgage and asset-backed securities: $1,785 million

Amgen, a pioneer in biotech, incorporated in 1980. Product cycles in biotech can take 10 to 15 years from discovery to market. Once they are finally on the market, however, many of the drugs are highly profitable. Amgen's current products include treatments for cancer patients, inflammation and kidney disease. Amgen's major blockbusters, Neulasta and Neupogen, had combined sales increases of 7% to $1.3 billion in the fourth quarter of 2011 versus $1.2 million in the same period last year. During 2011, Amgen spent $8.3 billion repurchasing its own shares.

5. Apple

Cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments: $30,156 million

Corporate securities: $8,171 million

U.S. government and agency securities: $7,431 million

Cash: $3,956 million

Money market funds: $3,495 million

In addition to the $30 billion listed here, Apple has $67 billion classified as long-term marketable securities, which is mostly invested in corporate securities. Wall St. is waiting for Apple to decide what to do with the money. iPhone sales may be so huge that Apple's cash balance improvement could move up $30 billion a quarter for the next few quarters. With a cash balance and longer term investment holdings of nearly $100 billion, the amount is nearly 20% of the company's market capitalisation. As the balance moves toward $200 billion, it will be interesting to see how Apple's market cap is affected.

4. Oracle

Cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments: $31,012 million

Commercial paper debt securities: $16,855 million

Corporate debt securities: $2,018 million

U.S. government and agency securities: $1,065 million

To keep evolving from its database software roots, Oracle uses frequent acquisitions to help expand its scope to servers and cloud services. Oracle is using $1.9 billion to purchase Taleo, which provides cloud-based talent management software. Big investments since 2005 include Sun Microsystems, BEA Systems, Siebel Systems and PeopleSoft. Founder and CEO Larry Ellison's bias toward growth through mergers and acquisitions could reduce Oracle's cash balance. But if the acquisitions are intelligent, the new acquired companies should eventually help strengthen Oracle's balance sheet.

3. Google

Cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments: $44,626 million

U.S. government and agency securities: $18,080 million

Agency residential mortgage-backed securities: $6,501 million

Corporate debt securities: $6,112 million

Cash: $4,712 million

The search engine giant is not expensive to run compared to sales as reflected by Google's 33% operating margin during 2011. Google, which has never paid a cash dividend, is using $12.5 billion to buy a partner of its Android operating system, Motorola Mobility. In some ways Google is like Apple. Each has achieved high operating margins for its sector. This remains true for Google, even as it adds thousands of employees per quarter. The growth in search revenue is still incredibly impressive. In terms of future cash generation, however, it is yet unclear whether Google can migrate its search ad model to mobile devices and make money from its widely used Android mobile operating system.

2. Cisco Systems

Cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments: $46,742 million

U.S. government and agency securities: $29,590 million

Money market funds: $6,612 million

Corporate debt securities: $4,234 million

Non-U.S. government and agency securities: $2,890 million

Networking products, such as routers and switches, account for half of Cisco's revenue. Profits from this market have fuelled an acquisition binge that lasted most of the past decade. After slumping on Wall St. in 2010, Cisco announced in 2011 a reorganization plan. It will focus on the margins of its core operations of routers and switches. As part of this plan, headcount is down about 8,000 over the past six months, and the Flip video camera line is gone. At the end of 2011, Cisco added to its cash, cash equivalents and investment balance and increased its 2012 dividend.

1. Microsoft

Cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments: $51,736 million

U.S. government and agency securities: $31,700 million

Corporate notes and bonds: $12,042 million

Cash: $2,349 million

Mortgage-backed securities: $2,018 million

Microsoft's Windows franchise has been a huge cash generator for years. Microsoft's online services and gaming divisions cut into the overall margins, but the company still has more than $50 billion on the books. Almost eight years ago, Microsoft decided to return $32 billion of its cash to shareholders with a one-time dividend. Microsoft spent $8.5 billion to purchase Skype last year, and its past four quarterly dividends amounted to $6 billion. Microsoft has gotten all of its cash from the divisions of its Windows franchises: Windows, Business, Tools & Servers. Last quarter, Microsoft had operating income of $2.8 billion from its flagship Window division on revenue of $4.7 billion -- an extraordinary margin that should continue to increase the company's cash balance.

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